Bodies of three Rajouri labourers, killed in Shopian on July 18 by the Army which called them terrorists before admitting there was “prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation, powers vested under the AFSPA were exceeded”, were exhumed in Baramulla Saturday and handed over to their families.
The J&K Police and Army have instituted their own inquiries, but questions remain — from the mystery detention of a Special Police Officer to the Army’s claim about the “encounter” in Amshipora in Shopian, the killing of three “terrorists” and the recovery of “arms and ammunition and IED material”.
The SPO detained by J&K Police is Fayaz Ahmad Rather, working at the Rajbagh police mess in Srinagar and attached to a Dy SP with the counter-insurgency Special Operations Group.
From Seri Chauhana village of Poonch district, Rather, according to his family, was taken by police around a month ago.
Asked about Rather, IGP (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar said: “SPO has not been arrested. He must have been called for questioning, but on paper, he hasn’t been arrested. I have been told that two civilians, who were informers, were arrested. I will say what is on the file.”
Rather and two others, who have already been produced before a court in Shopian, are being investigated for their alleged role in connection with the killing of Imtiyaz Ahmad (20) and Mohammad Ibrar (16) of Dharsakri village of Kotranka, and Abrar Ahmad of Tarkasi village by the Army.
Their bodies were exhumed Saturday after J&K Police confirmed that DNA tests had established their identities. On September 25, IGP Kumar told a press conference: “We have received the (result of) DNA samples today. They are matching. Now, we will take further action, we will take forward the investigations.”
Imtiyaz Ahmad, one of the three labourers, had been working in Shopian since 2018. He had been staying and working at the house of the numbardar of Chowgam village. On July 16, Imtiyaz told the numbardar’s family that he would rent a room since two other labourers from his village were going to join him.
He rented a room above a shop in the neighbourhood – it’s very close to a camp of the 62 Rashtriya Rifles — from village resident Shakeel Ahmad Lone. The next morning, when Lone’s wife went to the room, she didn’t find anyone there.
On July 18, the J&K Police announced the killing of “three unidentified terrorists” in an “encounter” in Amshipora village of Shopian.
“On a specific input by 62 RR about presence of terrorists in village Amshipora area of District Shopian, an operation was launched… During search, terrorists fired upon Army personnel and encounter started. Later on, police and CRPF also joined. During encounter, three unidentified terrorists were killed. Dead bodies of all the killed three terrorists were retrieved from the site of encounter. The identification and affiliation of the killed terrorists is being ascertained. Incriminating materials, including arms and ammunition were recovered from the site of encounter,’’ the police statement said.
Police said the bodies of the “killed terrorists have been sent to Baramulla for their last rites after conducting medico-legal formalities including collection of their DNA. In case any family claims the killed terrorists to be their kith or kin, they can come forward for their identification and participation in last rites at Baramulla”.
On July 19, Brigadier Ajay Katoch, Commander of 12 Sector Rashtriya Rifles, told the press: “On night 17th and 18th July, we received a human intelligence from our unit source at around 0200 hours of presence of 4 to 5 unidentified terrorists in village Amshipora… At 0245 hours on 18th July while the cordon party was in the process of laying the cordon, they came under heavy fire from the fringe of the cordon and after about 5 minutes they came under fire from the centre of the cordon. The fire was immediately retaliated, the cordon party was redeployed, additional parties were rushed to the spot, the cordon was strengthened and by 0430 hours, the police and the CRPF also reached the operational site.”
“At 0530 hours, after there was visibility, a search party was moved into the target house which was a newly constructed small single house. While the search part moved inside, it came under fire from inside of the house. The search party got deployed, lobbed grenades and retaliated the fire that came from inside. In the ensuing action, three terrorists were neutralized. The dead bodies of the terrorists, along with the arms and ammunition and IED material which was recovered from them was handed over to the J&K Police…,” he said.
On August 9, three families from Kotranka area of Rajouri approached police with a report that three of their kin, who had gone to Shopian to work as labourers, were missing since the night of July 17.
On August 10, their photographs began doing the rounds of social media, and the Rajouri families identified them as their missing members.
The Army responded immediately and released a statement: “We have noted social media inputs linked to the operation at Shopian on 18 July 2020. The three terrorists killed during the operation have not been identified and the bodies were buried based on established protocols. Army is investigating the matter.”
On August 13, a police team from Srinagar reached Rajouri and took DNA samples of the families to match them with the DNA extracts from the bodies of the three men to establish identities.
On September 18, the Army, in a statement, said: “The inquiry ordered by the Army authorities into Op Amshipora has been concluded. The inquiry has brought out certain prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation, powers vested under the AFSPA were exceeded and the Dos and Don’ts of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) as approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court have been contravened. Consequently, the competent disciplinary authority has directed to initiate disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima-facie answerable.”
“The evidence collected by the inquiry has prima-facie indicated that the three unidentified terrorists killed in Op Amshipora were Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Mohd Ibrar, who hailed from Rajouri. Their DNA report is awaited. Their involvement with terrorism or related activities is under investigation by the police. Indian Army is committed to ethical conduct of operations,” it said.
A week later, IGP Kumar confirmed that DNA of the three families matched with the three killed in Amshipora on July 18.
The Army has promised action, but has not explained the “prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation, powers vested under the AFSPA were exceeded”. Nor has it detailed “disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima-facie answerable”. It hasn’t identified its officers and men involved in the case.
Questions also remain on the authenticity of the “encounter”, the claim about coming under “heavy fire from the fringe of the cordon”, “fire from the centre of the cordon” and “fire from inside the house” during searches in a span of two hours and 45 minutes, the recovery of pistols and the sourcing, the claim about people gathering in large numbers at the site and stoning though the encounter took place in the early hours of the day.
Army PRO Col Rajesh Kalia said: “Refer your query on Op Amshipora, Shopian and the Army Statement released on 18 Sep 2020. Further proceedings based on the findings of the initial Court of Inquiry under the Army Act against those found prima-facie answerable are underway. The inquiry, as mandated by rules, took evidence of relevant service and civilian witnesses.”
“The antecedents of the three killed in the operation is a matter of police investigation. The dos and don’ts of the COAS bring out principles of use of min force etc. Stage managed encounter etc are not words attributable to the Army and our resolve to uphold law of the land is demonstrated by our actions taken till now.”
“Details of the operation, as known then, were shared. Further details will be shared in a manner so as not to prejudice the proceedings under Army Law,” he said.