Kulgam shut for fourth day; militants killed in Handwara identified as Lashkar men
By Mushtaq Ahmad, Zia-ul-Haq & Owais Farooqi
Kupwara/ Anantnag/ Bandipora: To foil the Kulgam Chalo march called by the joint resistance leadership, government authorities on Wednesday increased security measures across south Kashmir even as complete shutdown was observed in Kulgam district for the fourth consecutive day against the killing of four local militants and two civilians on Sunday. Clashes broke out between government forces and local youth in Bijbehara and Pulwama townships. All shops, business establishments, private offices, coaching centers, and petrol pumps remained shut at district headquarter Kulgam and in other towns of the district, including Quimoo, Khudwani, Frisal, Yaripora, Arwani and other areas. Public transport was also off the roads in the entire district.
Authorities deployed large contingents of police and para-military forces at all the entry points of the district. Meanwhile, people from various villages of the district continued to throng the homes of the slain militants and of the killed civilians, taking the route of interior roads, to express solidarity with their families.
Bijbehara, the chief minister’s hometown, remained shut on the Rasm-e-Chaharum (fourth day of mourning) in memory of the slain militants. Witnesses said that clashes erupted in the town between youth and government troops with the latter firing teargas shells at the youth. Groups of youth assembled in the market and fought pitched battles with the troops through the day.
In Pulwama, where shopkeepers had opened shops in the morning, clashes between local youth and government troops caused a complete shutdown of the market in the afternoon.
Witnesses said that a large number of youth appeared at Muran Chowk at about 11 am and began throwing stones at CRPF troops. The youth were chased away after additional forces were moved to the area. In the afternoon, witnesses said, youth again appeared in huge numbers and attacked the troops with stones again. After coming under heavy stone attack, the troops fired several warning shots and burst teargas shells. Witnesses said that the youth refused to relent and continued to attack the troops for hours.
Four local militants belonging to Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba were killed in a night-long gun battle by government troops on Sunday. Two army soldiers were also killed in the gunfight and three others suffered injuries. A member of the family that lived in the house where the gun battle took place was also killed, by government troops according to his family, and by the militants according to the troops. One more civilian was killed when troops opened fire on the crowd of protesters that had gathered at the encounter site.
Meanwhile, a day after the two separate encounters in north Kashmir in which four non-local militants and four army soldiers were killed, the police identified the three militants killed in the Handwara encounter as Abu Darda, Abu Mawiya and Sad. All three belonged to the Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group, the police said, and were active in the area for the past two-three weeks.
The bodies of the three militants were buried on Wednesday in a local graveyard in the outskirts of Handwara, Superintendent of Police Handwara Gulam Jeelani told Kashmir Reader.
The police and army also claimed that they recovered three AK-47 rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, medicines, two bags, and other “war-like stores” that were in possession of the killed militants.
The body of Abu Musa, the non-local militant killed in Hajin area of Bandipora on Tuesday morning, was sent in the evening to Police Lines Baramulla from where the police took the body for burial at the graveyard in Gantamulla Colony, which comes under police station Sheeri, where several non-local militants were buried last year. Reports said that some two dozen people participated in his last rites.
A senior police officer confirmed that they received the body of Abu Musa on Tuesday late evening and that they buried it in the graveyard at Gantamulla Colony in late evening.
Commanding Officer (CO) of the army’s 30 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) unit, Col Rajiv Sharan, told press reporters on Wednesday that the militants killed in Handwara were part of a group that had been roaming in the area for the past two-three weeks. “We received information from a source of our unit on Tuesday afternoon that there were three terrorists in a house in Hajin area and we shared the information with the local police, who told us that they had the same information. On the basis of this information, we launched an operation. One of our senior officers, Major Satish Dahiya, was leading the operational team. As we zeroed in on the house, the terrorists hidden there fired at our team and we fired in retaliation. In this gun fire we killed all the three militants but unfortunately, Major Satish also received injuries. We shifted him to our 92 Base Srinagar hospital but we could not save his life,” the army officer said.
A complete shutdown was observed in Hajin Bandipora and Hajin Handwara on Wednesday against the killings of the militants. All shops and business establishments remained close, though transport was reported to be plying on the roads.
Amid the shutdown, a large number of people in Kralgund and Langate areas of Handwara took to the streets for anti-India protests. The protesting people blocked the Baramulla-Handwara road for hours and demanded the bodies of the slain militants.
Hajin town in north Kashmir’s Bandipora also observed a complete shutdown on Wednesday to mourn the death of a militant killed by government forces on Tuesday.
All business establishments and the market remained closed while traffic stayed off the roads, apart from a few private vehicles.
On Tuesday, a gunfight here had resulted in the death of Lashkar-e-Toiba commander Abu Musa, who tried to break the troops’ cordon, and the death of three army soldiers — Dharmendra Kumar of 31 RR, Ravi Kumar of 31 RR, and Ashutosh Kumar of 13 RR. Five more soldiers were injured and a civilian, Hilal Ahmad, was hit by pellets in his eye during the public protests that occurred even while the gun battle was on. Seven protesters were injured in the clashes with government troops.
Police said that Abu Musa was the LeT’s current divisional commander who had replaced Abu Mawiya.
On January 10, a militant identified as Mawiya of the LeT was killed in Hajin. Police said he and his associates had infiltrated into Kashmir in September last year from Macchil sector of Kupwara and had been operating in Hajin area since then.
After that, on January 19, a militant identified as Abu Musa, district commander of Lashkar-e-Toiba, was killed in an encounter in Hajin, Police and army said that he was the nephew of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the November 26, 2008, attack on Mumbai.