Suspected militants abducted and killed a Kashmiri army officer on leave for a relative’s wedding, police said on Wednesday, an attack the military called a “watershed moment” that will turn the tide against extremist violence in the region.
Villagers found Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz’s body on a road in Shopian early Wednesday, a day after the 22-year-old was snatched by unidentified men from his cousin’s wedding a few kilometres away. He was shot twice.
In Kashmir, security forces are regularly targeted but militants singling out off-duty soldiers is rare. Army sources said the killing was to intimidate people and discourage local youngsters from joining the government forces that have been fighting an Islamist insurgency that broke out in the region in 1989 and has since killed more than 40,000 people.
The region has been battling an upsurge in violence since the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani by government forces last year.
Ummer’s killing came about a week after a rogue Pakistani army team crossed the de-facto international border and beheaded two Indian soldiers, triggering outrage across the country and prompting the government to vow a strong response.
Commissioned in December, Ummer was with the Rajputana Rifles in the Akhnoor sector. He was home on his first official leave.
Lt Gen Abhay Krishna of the Rajputana Rifles said the army stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the bereaved family.
“This marks a watershed moment in Kashmir valley and people of Kashmir will decisively turn the tide against terrorism,” he said.
In a separate statement, the army said it was committed to bringing “the perpetrators of this heinous act of terror to justice”.
Defence minister Arun Jaitley termed the killing as “a dastardly act of cowardice” and said in a tweet, “Lt Ummer Fayaz will continue to inspire youth from the Valley.” Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti also condoled the death of the young officer.
At the officer’s village in Kulgam in south Kashmir – where walls are dotted with slogans of ‘azadi’ -- family members, neighbours and officials gathered at the lawns of his ancestral two-storey house to mourn the death.
“My son was born in 1994 and he would turn just 23 in a few weeks. He was a very good son, my only one..,” said Ummer’s father Fayaz Ahmed, an apple farmer, with tears rolling down his cheeks.
Family members said they were not aware of any threats to Ummer, who trained at the National Defence Academy near Pune and the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun.
One of the relatives, Mohammad Ashraf, said quoting eyewitnesses that three gunmen climbed over walls and entered the house where the officer was attending his cousin sister’s wedding. “The gunmen apparently went upstairs and specifically targeted Ummer.”
Jammu and Kashmir director general police SP Vaid said the family did not inform the police as “they thought they (the militants) would let him off”.
The army described Ummer as a physically tough soldier who was part of the hockey team at the defence academy and also enjoyed volleyball.