7 civilians die in explosion after J&K encounter in Kulgam, 3 Jaish militants dead
Seven civilians were killed in Kashmir’s Kulgam on Sunday in an explosion at the site of a gun battle between militants and security forces after the encounter ended with the death of the three Jaish-e-Mohammed members, the police said.
Police spokesperson Manoj Kumar said the civilians were killed by “stray explosives” after they rushed to the encounter site, despite a warning by security forces. Locals earlier arrived at the spot and began shouting slogans and throwing stones at the troops after they heard about the ongoing encounter, the police said.
The three militants were killed in a house after the gunfight broke out early on Sunday after security forces began a cordon-and-search operation following reports of the presence of militants in Laroo village. The police said once the firing stopped, local residents went too close to the encounter site before security forces could sanitise the area.
Kumar said civilians had been advised to stay away from the spot. “They didn’t listen and visited the spot immediately after the forces withdrew... Some explosive substance went off resulting in injuries to civilians,” the spokesperson said.
While Kulgam deputy commissioner Shamim Ahmad Wani said six civilians were killed and 30 injured, superintendent of police Harmeet Singh later confirmed the seventh death.
While officials couldn’t immediately confirm the ages of the deceased, locals said one of the six was in his teens and the others were in their early 20s.
The incident comes after a civilian was among four people killed last week in a shootout in Srinagar.
The deaths of civilians triggered anger among locals, who asked why the encounter site was not cordoned off to people.
A resident of Kulgam, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the house where the incident took place was damaged in the encounter.
“I was at a distance when people started entering en masse into the house. Suddenly, there was a blast due to which people were flung into the air. Had security forces cleared the debris, this would not have happened,” he said, asking not to be named.
The Kulgam SP said the police left the area after retrieving bodies of the three militants because the house was on fire.
“There was stone pelting by locals as well. If we would have stayed, there could have been clashes with stone pelters. So, using public address system we advised people not to move near the house till it cools down and we clear it of any explosives in the evening. But people did not listen,” he said.
Singh said the three militants, identified as Shahid Ahmad, Zubair and Ayaz Makroo, were all locals belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terror outfit.
In a joint statement, K Vijay Kumar, the adviser to the governor, and state police chief Dilbag Singh appealed to civilians to avoid encounter sites till areas are sanitised. They expressed anguish and regret over the loss of civilian lives in the blast near the encounter site.
The incident comes a day before a scheduled visit of Union home minister Rajnath Singh to Kashmir on Tuesday. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out of a coalition government with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu and Kashmir in June, citing a deterioration in security, leading to President’s Rule in the state. Officials say that this year, at least 186 militants, 80 civilians and 75 government forces personnel have been killed in clashes across Kashmir.
Shortly after the incident, former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted: “Terrible news coming out from Kulgam... Alienating the people in the fight against militancy is a sure fire recipe for losing the fight. How long can we go on ignoring the ground realities & living in denial about how bad things are in Kashmir?”
PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, the previous chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, also reacted after the incident. “Extremely saddened by the news of Kulgam incident , where civilians were once again caught in the cross fire of violence , thus adding fuel to the already volatile situation . All words of condemnation, condolence sound very hollow at this tragedy,” she tweeted.
Separatists have called for a shutdown to protest the civilians’ deaths on Monday. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) called for a protest at Lal Chowk to condemn the deaths and those of “armed youth”.
The army and police have killed 10 militants, including top militant commander Mannan Wani, in separate encounters in the past two weeks.
A Kashmiri was also arrested after joining a terror outfit, according to officials.