Hours after police said that three militants were killed in an encounter in Shopian on Thursday, a J&K Police release clarified that one of them was an “active associate of terrorists”. His family, however, maintained that he had nothing to do with militancy.
Ishtiyaq Ahmad Bhat’s body was among the three bodies recovered from Handew area after an encounter between militants and security forces in the village on Thursday evening. Initially, J&K Police said that three militants were killed in the operation.
In another release, issued by the J&K Police spokesperson at midnight, they said that the militants had been identified. The release said that as per police records, Ishtiyaq was an “active associate of terrorists” and criminal cases were earlier registered against him, including one for militant activities. “His complicity in the instant incident is under probe,” the spokesperson said.
The Army spokesperson on Thursday night had said that only two militants were killed in the encounter. It did not mention Ishtiyaq’s killing.
At Ishtiyaq’s two-storey house in Handew village, the family appeared shocked. “How was he killed and how did he reach there? Only god knows what happened. But I can assure you he was not a militant, he had nothing to do with militancy. He was a civilian,” Ishtiyaq’s father Mohammed Dawood Bhat told The Indian Express.
That afternoon, Ishtiyaq reportedly returned home with firewood from his orchard, and then left to spend time in the neighborhood. An hour later, his family received news that he was killed in an encounter in a nearby orchard.
When the firing started in the village, Bhat said he immediately called on Ishtiyaq’s mobile. “But his phone kept ringing, and was later switched off. I started worrying,” he said.
It was only after the Army took some locals to take the bodies out after the operation that one of them was identified as Ishtiyaq, said Bhat
The family admitted that Ishtiyaq was arrested earlier this year. “He was in jail for about a month. As he was regularly going to the police station, he developed good relations with the police and would often play cricket with them,” said another relative of Ishtiyaq. “Whenever he got a call from the local police station, he would meet them.”
Ishtiyaq got married four years ago. Soon after his death, his mother was hospitalised as her health deteriorated.
“I saw Ishtiyaq at a shop an hour before the incident. Everyone is shocked at his death,” said a neighbour.
Local residents said this was the first encounter the village had seen in a long time. “I remember the last encounter was in 2006. There is no local militant here,” said one villager.