“There were at least 11 of them. They were all armed. They knocked on our door and entered. First some of them took my son away. Then they took away both my daughters. They claimed they wanted to ask the girls something in private.”
Thus spoke a weeping Freaza Begum, the mother of Akhtara (20) and Arifa (17) who were both gunned down, allegedly by Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) militants, on Monday evening in the Muslim Peer area of Sopore district, about 55 km north of Srinagar.
The girls, both school dropouts, were killed just 200 metres away from the nearest police station. Two other women — relatives accompanying the duo — were sent back before the militants opened fire with their AK-47 rifles. The son too was spared.
Freaza Begum’s family of seven lives in a single, tiny 10 feet square room. Ghulam Nabi Dar, the father, is a daily labourer.
“They were about to be married. We do not even know what their crime was. Please tell us what crime they committed,” said Freaza Begum.
“They could have warned us if our family had done anything wrong,” said Jeelani Dar, brother of the victims, clearly referring to the militants.
“They could have sent a threat letter to the mohalla head as they often do. But there was nothing.”
But asked if he believed it was the militants who killed his sisters, and Dar clams up. “Unidentified gunmen killed them,” he said.
Sopore has been a hotbed of separatist militancy, with numerous encounters between them and the security forces in the past two decades. Around 80 militants, according to intelligence sources, are still active in this belt.
The people’s sympathies are also clear. On Tuesday, the victim’s family was the only one in mourning. The rest of the hamlet went about its business as usual. The neighbours refused to discuss it.
The police have identified the killers as LeT’s Waseem Ahmad Ganie alias Sheer Yuni and and Muzaffar Ahmad Naikoo, both residents of Sopore. But they too are clueless about why the two girls were targeted.