Five months after a fierce encounter left two Lashkar-e-Tayyeba militants dead in Kashmir, an unexploded shell in the same vicinity on Sunday night killed three members of a family and left two others injured.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah expressed shock on Monday as the government remained clueless about the live shell reaching to a civilian house so easily.
“I am clueless. I saw my injured family members lying on the ground,” said victim’s father Muhammad Maqbool Bhat, a resident of a poor colony in north Kashmir’s Maloora area in Bandipora district, just 15 km away from Srinagar.
Around 8:30 pm on Sunday, Noor Muhammad Bhat (14), living in his one-room house with a wooden makeshift kitchen nearby, tried to hammer unexploded shell mistaking it for used ammunition. The poor family deals with scrap for livelihood besides working as labour. The shell exploded killing Bhat and his sister Bisma (11) on the spot. Their four-year-old sibling Muskaan succumbed to his injuries at a hospital on Monday.
“She had suffered multiple injuries. She was operated upon. However, during the intervening night, she succumbed,” SKIMS hospital medical superintendent Dr Syed Amin Tabish.
The mother and another daughter are battling for life in two different hospitals in Srinagar. The police suspect the children might had lifted the explosive from the river bed near the encounter site.
On October 21, last year, there was an encounter between the militants and the security forces in Maloora. The operation headed by the police was supported by the army and CRPF. The security forces used shells and the militants hurled grenades during the exchange of fire. Some three houses were damaged in the gun-battle.
“We are investigating how the bomb reached the house and an FIR has been lodged in the case,” divisional commissioner Kashmir Asgar Samoon told the Hindustan Times. The government has announced to provide a job to lone surviving son of the Bhats family, Ashiq Hussain Bhat, and construct a house for the victims.
Samoon, who visited to the spot along with senior police officers, said the police do carry mopping operation after encounters. “It will be premature to blame the security forces for any lapses. Let us wait for the inquiry report,” said Samoon.
Separatist leaders, Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani and JKLF chief Yasin Malik, have blamed the security forces for the deaths.
“The security forces should have cleared the leftover after the encounter,” said two separate statements issued by the separatist leaders while expressing anger over the incident. Malik said he will lead a delegation to the victims’ family tomorrow.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was quick to react on micro-blogging site Tweeter over the incident: “God please please put an end to all this death & destruction. How many more graveyards do we have to fill before someone says ENOUGH (sic)".
“Doesn’t it bother you how in every tragedy you are conditioned to blame the security forces. What about the LeT that created encounter?” tweeted Abdullah to one of his followers’ message.
This is first such incident to take place near Srinagar. Such incidents are common in border areas and security forces’ training centres in Kashmir.