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Families protest after 3 men killed in Srinagar encounter, say they were not militants

One of them was son of J&K Police constable, another had 2 family members in police. Encounter took place in Srinagar's HMT area where the suspected militants were holed up, security forces said.

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Srinagar: Families of three youths killed in an encounter Wednesday protested outside the Srinagar police control room (PCR) and claimed they were not militants. One of the men, they said, was the son of a Jammu & Kashmir Police constable, and another had two family members in the police. 

The encounter took place overnight at a house in Srinagar’s HMT Area where the suspected militants were holed up, the security forces said. 

Both the Army and the Jammu & Kashmir Police were part of the operation.

At a press conference, the Army said they had tracked the militants on the basis of intelligence inputs, adding that the latter “fired indiscriminately” and even lobbed grenades at the security forces.

“For past many days, intelligence inputs were pouring in continuously about the movement of militants on the Srinagar-Baramulla highway. Yesterday (Tuesday), we developed leads and came to know that militants are hiding in a house right opposite to Noora hospital at Lawaypora in HMT area,” said General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the counter-insurgency Kilo Force, H.S. Sahi.

“The militants fired indiscriminately at security forces and lobbed grenades as well. The operation was put on halt due to dark but cordon layers were tightened,” he added. “With the first light, the firefight again resumed and militants used heavy ammunition against security forces.”

In a statement issued Wednesday evening, J&K Police said, “On 29-12-2020, at about 05:30 pm, troops of 02RR launched a cordon-and-search operation on a specific input near Hokersar where the terrorists hurled grenade on the searching party and fired indiscriminately on troops while laying cordon.

“On receipt of this information, Srinagar police immediately along with Police Component Srinagar and Valley QAT (Quick Action Team) CRPF rushed to the spot.”

Sources in the CRPF, which conducts joint anti-militancy operations with the Army and the police, said the paramilitary force had arrived at the spot of the incident but withdrew as “the Army was handling the encounter”.

The three men have been identified as Ajaz Ahmed Ganai and Athar Mushtaq Wani of Pulwama and Zubair Ahmed Lone of Shopian.

According to the families, Ganai, in his 20s, was the son of a J&K Police constable, and Wani a Class 11 student in his late teens. Lone was a mason in his 20s, they said, adding that two of his family members are in the J&K Police.

They have disputed the account that the three were militants, and claimed they had no links with any militant groups.

Reached for comment about the claims, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Range) Vijay Kumar said parents were generally not aware about the activities of youngsters involved in militancy. He added that the men were given two chances Tuesday night and another Wednesday but they did not surrender.

Also Read: How an Army captain ‘staged’ killing of 3 Rajouri youth in controversial Shopian encounter

‘They were innocent’

As J&K Police vehicles were transporting the bodies of the deceased for burial — a practice observed by security forces in Kashmir to prevent large funeral gatherings amid the Covid-19 pandemic — their family members attempted to block their path. 

Women members of the families could be seen pleading with the authorities to hand over the bodies to them. 

Speaking to ThePrint, Ganai’s sister Asiya Maqbool said he had left home for the University of Kashmir around 11 am Tuesday. In their last conversation around 3 pm, he told her that he won’t be returning to Pulwama that day, she added.

“I called him at 3.01 pm asked him if he had lunch and he told me he ate biryani. He said his phone battery was very low and he would call later,” she said. “He also said he had to submit some documents and appear for some exam at Kashmir University and it will take time,” said Asiya, adding that they saw on social media that Ganai was dead. 

Manzoor Ahmed, a relative of Wani, said the teenager had left his home to find a hostel in Srinagar. Wani wanted to prepare for his Class 12 exams in Srinagar, a hub of tuition centres, he added.

“They were innocent. They had left their home to do their own work, mind their own business. Instead, they were killed in cold bold,” shouted another relative as he spoke to the media outside the PCR.

At least two sources in J&K Police said the youths were not listed as militants in police records, adding that the authorities concerned needed to check with other security agencies to find out if they had joined an insurgent group recently.

IGP Kumar acknowledged that the three were not named in their list of known militants, but added that “two of them are hardcore associates of terrorists (overground workers or OGWs)”. 

“One of them is a relative of top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Rayees Kachroo, who was killed in 2017. The… third (youth) might have joined (militancy) very recently,” he said.

Asked about the families’ claims, he said parents “generally don’t have an idea about the activities of such youths”. 

“Several OGWs, after committing a crime (terror incidents), stay with their family normally. One student from Pulwama who was taking coaching in Srinagar was caught after the examination of CCTV footage for lobbing grenade. His parents weren’t aware,” he added. 

He said the police is investigating the case and will come to a conclusion soon.

Also Read: Kashmir sees jump in terrorist encounters ahead of Article 370 removal anniversary


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