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Youth killed in Kulgam encounter ‘worked with LeT’, cops say, family claims ‘he played cricket’

Police say 19-yr-old Zakir Bashir was 'actively working' for LeT and 'harboured militants'. His family alleges he was dragged out of his home and beaten to death by security personnel.

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Chimmer, Kulgam: The killing of 19-year-old Zakir Bashir, an alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba operative, in an encounter by security forces in Srinagar’s Kulgam area Wednesday has raised several questions and brought the operation under spotlight.

According to the security forces, Zakir had joined LeT on 23 June and was “actively working” for the terror outfit. However, his family claims the 19-year-old was “an all-rounder cricketer” and was dragged out of his house by security personnel, beaten up and killed on a “mere suspicion” that he was “harbouring terrorists”. Zakir’s brother, Aashiq, who was at home at that time, too was allegedly beaten up.

A resident of the village said the suspicion of Zakir being a terrorist arose after a police informer saw him “showing the way to two terrorists”, who were “roaming in the area” and “mistook him to be an operative”. The informer, the resident, added, “must have tipped off the police.”

However, a senior police officer told ThePrint that Zakir had been “activated by the terrorists as an Over Ground Worker”. The officer said that the two other terrorists who were killed in the encounter were “boarding and lodging with Zakir and his family because he had joined the ranks with them and enjoyed their full confidence.”

The encounter broke out around noon Wednesday in Chimmer village of Kulgam district during a cordon and search operation launched by security forces including the J&K Police, CRPF and Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Army. According to the J&K Police, they had information about terrorists residing inside Zakir’s house, which was the target area.

While Waseem Ahmad Bangroo, a resident of Redwani Kulgam; Shahnawaz Ahmad, a resident of Kilbal, Shopian; and Zakir Bashir, resident of Chimmer village in Kulgam, were killed, the fourth militant managed to escape. Two soldiers were also injured and airlifted to Srinagar-based Army hospital.

Family says Zakir was beaten to death

Zakir’s family claimed that the 19-year-old was dragged outside his home, beaten and tortured to death by security forces before being shot a few meters from his house.

Zakir’s sister Usma told ThePrint that on 30 June he had returned home from their orchid after spraying pesticides and was going to take a bath when two security personnel barged inside their house. She alleged that while Zakir was dragged out from one side, their elder brother Ashiq was taken from the other door. The security personnel, Usma alleged, kept asking where the “other terrorists were hiding in the house”

While Ashiq was released after a while, Zakir went missing and it is only later in the day that the family found out about his demise in an encounter through Facebook, they claimed.

They also said Zakir “had been busy with an upcoming inter-village cricket tournament and also had a match scheduled on the day he was killed.”

While the police claimed that Zakir joined The Resistance Front on 23 June and “actively started working with LeT”, the scorebook at Nehama stadium shows that he was playing a match there on 23 June. There is an entry of 26 June and 28 June as well for different matches and net practices.

“He was no terrorist. He would work in our orchids during the day and play cricket. We are not well off and all of us six siblings including my father, work in the orchids to make both ends meet. Still I had given him three days in a week to concentrate on his practice, as he was very good at the game. He was preparing for his tournament,” Tariq Ahmed, Zakir’s elder brother said.

“He was an excellent batsman. He had formed the Chimmer team and held tournaments and was preparing for the Chimmer Premier League (an inter-village series). He also planned to buy nets for his team so that they could practice well and win the league,” Tariq said.

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‘Killed by his own grenade outside his house’

Speaking to ThePrint, Gurinder Pal Singh, SSP Kulgam, refuted the family’s allegations as “baseless” and said that Zakir and two others were killed right outside his house. Singh said the police had information about LeT terrorists presence in Kulgam to “activate local boys” and that is when the operation was carried out.

“They (terrorists) had moved inside Chimmur village to activate local boys and Zakir was one of them. They had been camping in the area for more than 10 days and were also given shelter by Zakir and his family,” Singh said.

“Zakir was never dragged out of his home and in fact, himself came out and launched a fatal attack at the armed forces. He tried to throw a grenade at the forces, but it fell next to his foot and exploded. There was indiscriminate firing from their end, right outside the house. He died in the first few minutes of the operation,” the SSP added.

Commenting on Zakir playing a match on the day the police claimed he joined terror ranks, Singh said, “So what if he was playing a match? Militants cannot play a match? No one announces it while joining terror outfits. It is only later, after they go missing from their homes, that they release a photo with a gun and a video announcing their joining and the families come to know about it. He was soon to leave but was killed before that.”

Another senior police officer said that when the security forces surrounded the house, the terrorists started firing indiscriminately from inside and Zakir even hurled a grenade at the police party, which exploded near his foot. The police then opened fire in retaliation and a bullet hit Zakir leading to his death. The police denied beating him up.

Zakir’s post-mortem report shows bullet injuries and mentions his cause of death as “excessive bleeding”.

‘They kept beating me’

Zakir’s brother Ashiq claimed he was kept in a cow shelter in the village during the encounter and beaten up.

Showing injuries on his thighs and legs, he said, “I was with Zakir when these men came inside and dragged us out from different doors. They took me to a cow shelter in the area where they tied my hands with a rope and started beating me up. They asked why I harbored terrorists and who all were there.”

Ashiq (L), brother of Zakir who was allegedly beaten up by security personnel | Ananya Bhardwaj | ThePrint

While the police denied beating Ashiq, when asked about the injuries on his body, a senior police officer said that they could have been inflicted by one of the terrorists, who may have visited their home later, after the encounter.

“I do not know how he sustained those injuries. There were four terrorists present in the house, while three got caught, one escaped. It is possible that he returned and beat him, thinking that he may have tipped off the police or as a warning to not let out any more information about the organization or location of their members,” the officer said.

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‘Family harbouring terrorists’

According to SSP Kulgam, Zakir and his family were “active accomplices in keeping militants inside their home” and the sections for harbouring terrorists have already been included in the FIR registered for the encounter.

The SSP also said “the family has been harbouring militants. They are now spreading rumours because they are scared that their house may be attached as proceeds of terrorism.”

“We will be taking strict legal action against anyone found to be actively harbouring terrorists, including family members (if their active role in sheltering terrorists surfaces). FIR into the matter has already been registered,” he added.

Separately, another FIR has been registered for taking legal action against anyone who is found spreading misinformation with the aim of misleading the public or causing disaffection or causing disruption of peace and order, the SSP added.

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