Family of killed Jaish operative Sajad Ahmad Bhat can’t believe he joined militant ranks
On February 22, just a week after a car bomb had killed 40 CRPF men in Pulwama, Sajad Ahmad Bhat, a teenager, left his home at Marhama village in Bijbehara, some 45km from summer capital Srinagar.
A day later, police shocked his family members by informing them that he had joined militant outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Five more days later, the family was in for another startling revelation when the National Investigation Agency raided their two-storey modest house with the news that Bhat owned the explosive-laden Maruti Eeco, which was used in the Pulwama attack that had brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.
On Tuesday, more than four months after the ghastly attack, Bhat was brought home dead from an encounter, along with another young local militant, Tawseef Ahmad.
“Despite being a teenager, he was very much respected here. He had learnt Quran at a tender age and also taught kids in the village. Is 17 any age to die?” said a middle-aged neighbour who was among the mourners.
As the body of Bhat was laid in the courtyard of his house, men, women and children made a beeline for catching a glimpse of the boy. One group of people was followed by another. Some elderly said they travelled 5km on foot to see him one last time.
The funeral prayers of Bhat were delayed as people were waiting for the arrival of his father Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, an employee in public health engineering department, who has been in police custody since Sajad Bhat’s name surfaced as the owner of the car.
His uncle, Tariq Ahmad Bhat, said they had no inkling that Sajad would join militancy. “He would study, offer namaz during the day and teach village kids in the evening. That was his life. Even after Pulwama blast, he lived a normal life till February 22, when he went missing,” Tariq said. “We had no idea that he will join militancy.”
Sajad had learnt Quran at a Darul Uloom in Shopian and also did his basic schooling there, his uncle said, while adding that he loved cricket and captained the Darul Uloom’s volleyball team.
Tariq recalled two incidents which might have changed Sajad’s life. Elder of the two siblings, Sajad was very perturbed when his father was arrested in 2016.
“During the 2016 agitation, his father was arrested by police and kept in jail for months on false charges of provoking protests,” Tariq said. “Then, local army men from a camp took him away some three months before he joined militancy. Sajad was riding a bike when he was waylaid by army during a protest and tortured in custody,” he claimed.
“A police officer said Sajad name cropped up in the probe related to Pulwama attack with an intel that he had purchased the vehicle a few weeks before the blast,” he said.
Tariq, however, maintained that they were shocked by the police claims. “He only owned a bike. We neither gave him a Maruti Eeco, nor was any such car in our house,” he added.
The villagers of Marhama are mostly farmers, while a number of youth are also working with security forces. “Many youth are working in the police department,” said a resident Ubaid Ahmad.
Lance Naik Ghulam Mohiuddin Rather, who was killed in an ambush by militants in February 2017, belonged to the same village.