Shopian, Kashmir: For the Mir family in the Arwani locality of south Kashmir’s Bijbehara town, time shuddered to a stop Monday afternoon when news of their youngest son Owais Ahmed being caught by the Jammu police surfaced on social media. Owais’s face was plastered all over social media as the “suicide bomber” in Saturday’s failed Banihal attack on a CRPF convoy.
Owais Ahmed Mir had joined the banned Hizbul Mujahideen almost a year ago, and his family has been worried that news of his “encounter” could come any time. The last thing they expected Owais to do was to attempt a rerun of the Pulwama suicide bombing that killed 40 CRPF personnel on 14 February. But by Monday evening, the family — temporarily — heaved a sigh of relief when it was conveyed to them that the youth arrested was not “their” Owais.
“I couldn’t believe it for a moment when I heard he had tried to carry out the fidayeen attack. When we went to confirm what was appearing in the media, the police informed us that it wasn’t him,” said Owais’s older sister Jameela Mir.
While the Mir family were momentarily relieved, another family in Shopian was about to get some grim news about their son, Owais Amin Rather.
Initially, it was Owais Mir’s photograph that was released to media personnel through ‘unofficial channels’, but it was Owais Rather who had been arrested by the police.
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Police ‘wrongfully’ detained one brother, other joined the militants
Speaking about the circumstances behind her brother Owais Mir joining the Hizbul Mujahideen, Jameela recounted: “Last year, the police had arrested a youth, also named Owais, in the Kulgam area in a militancy-related case. The police raided our home to arrest him (Owais), but couldn’t find him. Instead, they took my other brother.”
She pointed to Muzaffar Mir, who is currently pursuing his graduation. Muzaffar said Owais was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in arts when the incident took place.
“He made one last call before joining Hizb (Hizbul Mujahideen). He asked if the police will let Muzaffar go. I said I don’t think so,” said Jameela.
“I had told the police that if they wrongfully detained Muzaffar, Owais would surely join the militants, but they weren’t responsive. Owais finally became a militant and now he is travelling on Allah’s path.”
The cricket fan who did get caught
The unapologetic Jameela stands in complete contrast to the family of the other Owais, whose family lives in the village of Vehil, Shopian, some 35 km from Bijbehara.
Owais Rather’s father Amin told ThePrint Tuesday that there had been some kind of “mix up”.
“My son is not a militant. He has no police case against him and has never participated in any protest or stone pelting,” said Amin Rather, a government official in the J&K agriculture department.
Amin said the 20-year-old Owais was pursuing BBA from a Srinagar college, and was in touch with the family till Friday evening. The family also said he was a cricket fan and was interested in pursuing an MBA to help his older brother Aqib establish a chartered accountancy firm in Shopian.
“Due to unrest in this region, I wanted him to get his education from Srinagar. He was living in a rented house in the Barzulla area of Srinagar. We even had a video call with him on Friday evening, but since Saturday morning, his phone has been off. We were told by the police he had attempted a fidayeen attack. I cannot believe this. There is some confusion,” Amin said, adding that he had even travelled to Owais’s rented house, but found it locked.
Aqib showed ThePrint pictures of Owais attending the engagement ceremony of their cousin.
“He was home from 23 to 25 March. He left the morning of the 26th, saying he had to play a cricket match,” Owais’s older brother said. “I don’t know what happened. I spoke to his friends too, who said they had been in touch with him till Friday evening, and he was chatting with them normally.”
Also read: Suspect in Jammu attack claims Hizbul Mujahideen paid him Rs 50,000 to lob grenade
What the police say
While the families have raised doubts on the police’s version of the Banihal incident, J&K Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbagh Singh termed the arrest of Owais Rather a “success” at a press conference Tuesday.
The DGP did not respond to calls or messages, neither did IG M.K. Sinha. This report will be updated when they comment.
Meanwhile, Anita Sharma, senior superintendent of police for Ramban district, spoke briefly to ThePrint. Asked how the confusion between the two Owaises arose, and about Owais Rather’s alleged role, she said: “It is too early to make a comment. The investigation is in its early stages so we won’t be able to share any details for the time being.”