Within less than an hour of Jammu and Kashmir police saying three militants were killed in an encounter at Lawaypora, families of the trio held protests outside the police control room claiming they were innocent and killed in a “staged” encounter.
The police said the three were “hardcore associates” of terrorists and that they will investigate the case and come to the conclusion soon on merits. The allegations by the families come close on the heels of the Shopian fake encounter where police investigation has held an army captain and two civilians responsible for the killing of three labourers from Rajouri killed earlier this year. The army has said it has competed the process of recording the summary of evidence in the case.
“Why did you have to kill an innocent boy. He was a student. He had tea with the family yesterday morning. I don’t know where he was brought down from in a Sumo (passenger vehicle) and killed,” Bashir Ahmad Gania, grandfather of Aijaz Maqbool, one of the deceased, told mediapersons.
His sister claimed that Aijaz was advised bed rest by a doctor and had not ventured out of home for the last two months. “He was operated upon and stayed home for the last two months. Yesterday, he had left for university to submit a form. He even called me at 3.01 pm saying he might not be able to come home as he has to prepare for exam,” she said. “We are in shock after the news of his death was given by our father who works with the police department.” Aijaz’s father Mohammad Maqbool Ganie is posted in Ganderbal.
“He said he is going to Srinagar to submit the application form at the Kashmir University. Today we got a call that he has been killed. The village is shocked,” said a youth who claimed to be his friend. “I spoke to him yesterday and asked for some notes. He assured me that since he was busy today (Tuesday), he would give it the next day. I am shocked to hear that he has been killed.”
“We should be told what his fault was that he had to be killed. They should kill us all,” said his grandfather Bashir Ganie.
Families of two other deceased, Ather Mushtaq Wani, a student from Bellow village of Pulwama, and Zubair Ahmad Lone, from Turkewagan, Shopian, too protested and claimed they were not connected with militancy.
In a tweet earlier, the police said two more terrorists have been killed in the encounter taking the toll to three.
Police said the three were “hardcore associates” of terrorists and despite that were given ample opportunities to surrender on Tuesday and Wednesday morning. They instead fired and lobbed grenades on security forces and got killed, police said.
The police handout identified the trio as Ajaz Maqbool Ganie and Ather Mushtaq, both residents of Pulwama, and Zubair Lone, a resident of Shopian. It said some families from South Kashmir came to PCR and claimed them to be their wards. They have been sent to Ganderbal for further identification and participation in last rites in the presence of the magistrate.
Police said that though the three were not mentioned in their list of terrorists, yet two of them were hardcore associates of terrorists (OGWs). One of the two was a relative of top HM commander Rayees Kachroo who was killed in 2017. The third might have joined very recently, police said.
“Generally parents don’t have an idea about the activities of their wards. Several OGWs after committing terror crimes like grenade-throwing and pistol-shooting stay normally with their family. For instance, one student from Pulwama who was taking coaching in Srinagar was caught with the help of CCTV footage for lobbying a grenade. His parents were totally unaware about his terrorist activities,” an official said.
Earlier, HS Sahi, General officer Commanding (GoC) Kilo Force, said that three militants killed in the gunfight at Lawaypora on Srinagar outskirts were planning a big strike on the highway to attract media publicity. “There were regular inputs about the movement of militants on the Srinagar-Baramulla highway. Yesterday, we developed leads and came to know that militants are hiding in a house right opposite to Noora hospital at Lawaypora in HMT area,” Sahi said, adding that they were asked to surrender.
“The militants instead fired indiscriminately at our troops and lobbed grenades as well. They did not want to surrender,” he told reporters.
Last night, the operation was put on a hold due to darkness but the cordon was tightened further. This morning heavy firing resonated in the area and at around 11:30 am the gunfight ended with the killing of the trio.
“This was a clean operation and there was no causality to security forces,” said Sahi. “The nature of ammunition used by the militants in today’s gunfight, suggests they were planning a big strike on the highway.”
A police officer said one AK-47 rifle, two pistols and some grenades were recovered from the killed militants.
Meanwhile, it is learnt that the trio have been buried in a far off Sonmarg area of Ganderbal and some family members also participated in the last rites. The authorities have taken down mobile internet services in Pulwama and Shopian to contain protests.
The National Conference has sought time-bound inquiry into the circumstances leading to the killing, saying justice must be immediately delivered by investigating the matter on impartial, fast-track basis.
“The police version is that the trio were militants who refused to surrender during the gunfight were killed, but the version of families of the slain is contradictory to that of the police version. It is for the government now to clear the ambiguity leading to the death of the three persons,” a party spokesperson said. “We demand a thorough inquiry into the incident.”
Qayoom Khan has contributed to this report.