The army firing left two civilians dead in a pre-dawn operation in Bandipora district in the Kashmir valley on Sunday, sparking violent protests. The army has ordered a probe "to punish the guilty".
The incident occurred between 3am and 4am when, according to locals, a contingent of the army had cordoned off Bandipora's Markundal village, 40 km of Srinagar.
"There was movement in the village. It was dark. The villagers raised alarm, fearing a group of thieves. Suddenly, the army fired gunshots," a local told the HT over phone from Bandipora.
Irfan Ahmad Ganai, a Class-12 student, who was hit in the head and abdomen, died in the firing.
Immediately after the sunrise, hundreds of local villagers assembled and started protesting against the killing. Between 6am and 7am, the army's 13 Rashtriya Rifles allegedly opened fire to disperse the protesters. This time, bullets hit 28-year-old Irshad Ahmad Dar. Hundreds of angry villagers participated in the last rites of the victims.
"An FIR under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC has been lodged against the 13 Rashtriya Rifles. No inquiry is required since the army opened the fire," said Bandipora deputy commissioner Muhammad Yousuf Zargar.
The killings triggered violent protests, which left five policemen injured and an ambulance damaged. The authorities had to stop the movement of the Amarnath pilgrims on the Bandipora-Sonamarg road.
Bandipora MLA and senior minister Akbar Lone described the killing as "cold blooded murder". "The army always takes shield of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act but we will thoroughly probe the killings," said Lone.
The army has also taken a strong note of the incident. "We deeply condole the deaths. We have ordered an investigation. Anybody found guilty would be punished," said major general R R Nimbhorkar, general officer commanding of the army's Victor Force.
The army claimed "it launched the operation with the local police after receiving a tip off about presence of militants in the area."
However, the district administration has refuted the claims that the local police was part of the operation. There is a defined standard operation procedure (SOP) in place under which the local police are to be intimated in case of anti-militancy operation.