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7 militants, including chief of Al Qaeda-inspired AGH killed, Amarnath Yatra was target

Police & Army say militants are picking ‘soft targets’ but Yatra will be protected, reveal that Hizbul & Lashkar operatives are joining outfits like AGH to revive them.

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Srinagar: Seven militants were killed in two separate encounters in Shopian and Tral Friday, including Imtiyaz Shah, the chief of the Al Qaeda-inspired outfit Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, the Jammu and Kashmir Police said.

The police claimed Friday that Shah was tasked with attacking the Amarnath Yatra, which is set to take place this year after being cancelled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Senior police and Army officers added in a press conference that this continues a recent trend of militants targeting “soft targets”, and that efforts would be made to ensure the Amarnath Yatra is held peacefully.

“Since January, there has been a trend to attack soft targets. In Srinagar, civilians were targeted. The Amarnath Yatra is also a soft target, but we are prepared. Security arrangements will be fool-proof. There will be no attack; we will enter their hideouts to eliminate them,” Inspector General of Police (Kashmir division) Vijay Kumar said.

Lt Gen. D.P. Pandey, general officer commanding of the Army’s 15 Corps, also addressed the media, along with Maj. Gen. Rashim Bali, GoC of the ‘Victor Force’. On whether militants are planning to target Amarnath Yatra, Lt Gen. Pandey said this won’t be the first time.

“Militants are always looking for soft targets. We will ensure all measures are taken to see a peaceful Amarnath pilgrimage this year,” he said.

Also read: Stone-pelting more serious than terrorism, impacts economic activity & schools: IGP Kashmir

AGH almost ‘wiped out’ again

IGP Kumar said though all seven militants killed — five in Shopian and two in Tral — belonged to the AGH, two of them had been drawn from the Hizbul Mujahideen and one from the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Now, after the encounters, the strength of the group is down to just one member.

Asked about J&K Police chief Dilbag Singh’s 2019 claim that the AGH had been wiped out, IGP Kumar explained: “For the last six months, militants have been changing their groups. For instance, of the militants killed, two were categorised as HM militants and one as LeT. But they were together as AGH. This is a new pattern that has emerged.”

He added: “Similarly, LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed are working together. Al Badr was wiped out, but it has received funds from Pakistan to revive itself. For now, there is only one militant left in AGH, but in two weeks, more people might be recruited.”

Details of the operation

Maj. Gen. Bali narrated how the operation in Shopian, where the militants were holed up in a local mosque, went down.

“We first sent the Maulvi sahab into the mosque twice to convince the militants to surrender. Then we sent the brother of one of the militants twice in the night with the same message. In the morning, we also sent his parents into the mosque. But we did not get any response. We made every attempt to make our Kashmiri brothers surrender,” Bali said.

“Finally, in the morning, we started automatic fire and then used small grenades. The Corps commander had directed us not to use force, saying the mosque was a pure place and should remain pure. We observed a lot of restraint, and as a result, troops received splinter injuries. Now, we are trying to restore the mosque,” the major general said.

Diktat to reporters on covering gun fights

Friday’s encounter also came amid controversy surrounding the J&K Police’s diktat to disallow reporters from covering gun fights. Twelve Kashmir-based journalists’ bodies issued a statement asking IGP Kumar to clarify his statement to a local news agency, wherein he said that journalists will not be allowed near encounter sites.

Asked about this, the IGP said the order he sent to the district SSPs was in compliance with Supreme Court’s direction to bar coverage of live encounters.

“Supreme Court order on live encounters is that bullets can strike journalists; forces fighting can be disturbed. Live coverage can cause law and order situations. These are some of the issues that can arise from covering encounters,” Kumar said.

“You release the video of the police beating you up. Why do you go near encounter sites?” he asked journalists.

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)

Also read: 3 days of terror: Kashmir village recounts living through gun battle that left it in ruins


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