A policeman and two militants were killed on Sunday in a fierce 18-hour gunfight in south Kashmir’s Tral, as people from neigbouring villages threw stones at security personnel to disrupt the counter-insurgency operation.
The overnight exchange in the hometown of militant Burhan Wani, whose killing triggered five months of unrest in the Kashmir Valley last year, left a local militant, Aqib Maulvi, and a Pakistani dead, director general of police SP Vaid said.
Maulvi was a top commander of the Hizbul Mujahedeen, the state’s police chief said. The identity of the Pakistani militant was being ascertained, sources said.
Police constable Manzoor Ahmed Naik of Uri was also killed in the operation that began at 7pm Saturday.
As security forces took on the militants holed up in the house of a carpenter in Hafoo area, hundreds of people from nearby 10 villages gathered closed to site and started to protest, eyewitnesses said.
Some of them resorted to stone pelting, forcing security forces to use tear gas and fire in the air, sources said. Some miscreants also snatched the rifle of a CRPF man.
Police downplayed the incident saying it was “minor” and situation was “well under control”.
Army chief general Bipin Rawat recently warned civilians against preventing forces from carrying out anti-terror operations or searches, saying such people would be considered accomplices and dealt with accordingly.
But the warning, which came after the army lost at least six men in quick succession, has had little effect.
Stone-pelting in Tral was the fourth time after Rawat spoke on February 15 that locals tried to disrupt an operation.
The Jammu and Kashmir government, too, had advised local youth against running towards the site of a gun battle. It has declared three-kilometer area around an encounter site as a no-go zone in Srinagar, Budgam and Shopian districts.
Protesting locals distract security forces and help militants escape, authorities say.
They seemed to have tried the same on Saturday night as a joint search party of police, the army and the Central Reserve Police Force laid a cordon after they were alerted about the presence of militants in the area.
The gunfight started after the militants opened fire at around 7pm. In the early hours of Sunday, Maulvi called up his father to bid goodbye, sources said. The firing, however, continued well into noon.
A constable with the special operations group, Manzoor Ahmed Naik took the militants head on. The 33-year-old twice planted explosives in the house where the gunmen were hiding.
He was a native of Dachna in Uri and is survived by a pregnant wife and one-year-old son.
“Naik was an outstanding jawan of the SOG and the J-K police,” Vaid said.
(With PTI inputs)