Scores of mobile-totting youth jostled on Tuesday to click the face of killed Khalid Wani, brother of the most-wanted Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, fast turning south Kashmir’s Tral into Hizb’s recruitment capital.
The news of Khalid’s killing in an army operation on Monday afternoon, when he had gone with food to meet his brother along with three friends up in a nearby jungle, fuelled frenzy on Monday night.
Most of the mosques in the town and adjoining villages were abuzz with sloganeering, with youths asking people to assemble in the open to protest. What they alleged was — “killing of Khalid in the army custody.”
The army, however, refuted the charges, claiming that Khalid “was an overground worker and wanted the three youths to join militancy”.
“Khalid bore torture marks,” claimed a youth, while putting a blanket as shroud on Khalid’s body with face open for protesting youth to have the last glimpse before lowering him in the grave on Tuesday.
Youths took over the town and adjoining villages to attack CRPF pickets, vehicles of police and barricaded roads with stones. They raised anti-India and pro-freedom slogans. The security forces used scores of smoke shells and aerial firing to disperse the unrelenting crowd. Twelve protesters received wounds from shells and pellets.
One critically wounded was shifted to a Srinagar hospital. “He has head injuries,” said Dr Farooq Jan, medical superintendent of Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences and Hospital (SKIMSH).
The mood of the protesters can be gauged from the fact that one demonstrator snatched the rifle from a CRPF jawan of 40 Battalion, who was caught up in a protesting crowd.
With Rs 10 lakh award on his head, Khalid’s brother Burhan, in his early twenties, is fast turning into a militant icon. Son of a school principal, Burhan of Tral’s Shareefababd area joined the militant ranks after the security forces allegedly played a prank on his brother Khalid in 2010.
“Special Task Force personnel once stopped Burhan and his brother (now slain) to buy cigarettes and a packet of snacks. The cops winked at paramilitary personnel playing cards nearby, who swiftly pounced on them, leaving Khalid unconscious on the ground,” recalled a friend of Khalid.
Since then, Burhan, Class 10 student in 2010, decided to take revenge, saying “he won’t leave them now.”
Police officials had instructed Burhan to mix sedatives if the militant commander visited his home ever, which he never did.
“Khalid wanted him to go abroad for studies,” recalled another friend.
The killing has potential to further alienate the angry youth of Tral. There are 37 militants buried in Tral’s Dadsara graveyard, one of the many in the area.
Burhan represents new-age militant in Kashmir. He never crossed the Line of Control, sources said, for arms training but self-managed militancy by snatching weapons from the local police to carry out deadly attacks, including one which left a former militant injured recently.
One such snatched weapon was seized from the encounter site on Tuesday. “Of two AK 47 rifles recovered from the site, one was snatched from policeman on August 8, 2014,” said Srinagar-based army spokesman.
Burhan has already inspired many youths in the Valley to have Facebook fan pages in his name.
Geelani to hold protest march on Friday
Facing backlash for issuing Tral-centric shutdown on Wednesday, hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani, arriving from New Delhi on Wednesday, has decided to visit the town and called for a protest march on upcoming Friday.
“People of the state are appealed to reach Tral on April 17 (Friday) to protest against the cold-blooded murder,” said a Hurryat spokesman.
Geelani is scheduled to visit Tral to address people after Friday prayers.