Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir Police is verifying a claim that the two militants killed in the Handwara encounter Saturday were local residents.
The claim was made by new militant group active in Kashmir, The Resistance Front (TRF) — which J&K Police says is an offshoot of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
The outfit released pictures and a video Monday on social media, identifying the two men as part of their cadre. The J&K Police, however, said the slain militants couldn’t be “unidentified”.
According to TRF, the two militants were part of their “two-men squad”.
A source in the J&K Police said they are verifying these claims.
Militant in TRF video had travelled to Pakistan
The two militants identified by the TRF in their video, the source said, are shown as part of the LeT in official records.
“One of the named militants had travelled to Pakistan on valid documents last year and was believed to have infiltrated into Kashmir in October last year. The two men whose pictures and names have been shared on social media by suspected militant profiles are from Sopore and Kralgund in Handwara,” said a senior police officer.
The brother of this militant told ThePrint that he and his father went to the village Monday where the encounter had occurred, but they were not allowed near the site of the gunfight.
“No one has confirmed that it is indeed my brother who has been killed in the encounter. Our relatives had seen social media posts mentioning the killing of my brother in the village so we decided to go and check for ourselves. We will reach out to authorities now,” the brother told ThePrint.
Family members of another militant, whose name was shared by the TRF in its video, went to the district magistrate’s office in Baramulla Monday to verify the claims of social media, but were turned back by on-duty officials.
A relative of the militant said they heard through people that the two men killed in the encounter include one of their own. “But we have no confirmation,” the relative added.
According to the Standard Operating Procedure, J&K authorities hand over the bodies of local militants killed in encounters to their families. In case of foreign militants, the authorities bury the bodies in a graveyard located in Baramulla.
Authorities have long feared that funerals of militants can escalate into major law and order situation. The Covid-19 pandemic also has the government worried about residents flouting social distancing norms by gathering in vast numbers to attend last rites of militants.
In the last few encounters, authorities have buried bodies of militants in Baramulla graveyard.
The encounter in Handwara claimed lives of five security personnel.
The deceased are Col Ashutosh Sharma, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh Singh and J&K Police Sub-Inspector Shakeel Qazi.
“Late Col Ashutosh Sharma and his team were leading a counter-terrorist operation in village Chanjimul, district Kupwara. In a valiant effort to save innocent civilian lives, while putting their own lives in grave danger, they eliminated two terrorists in the operation,” the Army said in a statement Monday.
The Army said they received inputs Friday about militant presence in Rajwar forests adjacent to Chanjimul village. However, they zeroed in on the location of the militants to a house in the village Saturday.
The terrorists had managed to enter a house which had civilians in it, the Army said.
The team led by Col Sharma entered the house where the militants had taken civilians hostage. Sources said the civilians were rescued, but the team came under heavy fire in an open compound while exiting.
“It must be around 3 (Saturday afternoon) that firing started and it only stopped at 12 in the night. Next morning (Sunday), I along with four others were told by the security forces to enter the ravaged house where the encounter was taking place. We initially protested but they wanted us to check if the militants were alive. We found dead bodies of the Army and police men lying outside the house. Then we went inside the house in search of bodies but only found them lying at some distance from the building,” said village head Mohammad Abdullah Lone.
Lone said as soon as security forces launched a cordon, local residents fled their homes.
Saleema Begum was one of the residents, who also fled her home that became the encounter site.
Her husband Abdul Khaliq, a carpenter, left home early Saturday with his two sons, hoping to find some work, leaving Saleema and their 10-year-old daughter at home.
Saleema later dropped her daughter at a relative’s house and left to fetch some vegetables. Upon her return, she cleaned the house and started to cook food for the evening. But when she saw soldiers taking positions outside her home, she fled.
“I fled as soon as I saw them. I was scared. Since then I have no idea how my children are. They are staying at the home of our relatives. My husband has been taken by police and is being questioned. We are extremely poor and will take years to rebuild our home. I just want my family back,” she said.
Saleema said the militants had not entered her home.
“It happened so fast, I just couldn’t process what was happening around me. I just ran until I reached a safe spot,” she added.