Grief and anger grip Kashmir after militants kill 12-year-old
On Saturday, the boy’s parents and sisters were huddled together at the home of a relative, adjacent to their own in the town’s Mimoh neighbourhood. Relatives, neighbours and the boy’s many school friends streamed in through the day to offer condolences.Updated: Mar 24, 2019 09:39 IST
Residents of this small town in north Kashmir’s Bandipora are coming to terms with the death of 12-year-old Aatif Mir, a Class VI student of Army Goodwill School, who was held hostage in his own home by two Lashkar-e-Taiba militants and then killed by them even as security forces tried to secure his release.
He was taken hostage during a search-and-cordon operation by the security forces.
On Saturday, the boy’s parents and sisters were huddled together at the home of a relative, adjacent to their own in the town’s Mimoh neighbourhood. Relatives, neighbours and the boy’s many school friends streamed in through the day to offer condolences.
Khalid, one of Aatif’s friends who lives in the same locality, said, “Our school is closed today [Saturday]. I can’t believe Aatif is not alive. He was very good at studies. We used to play and study together.”
The school will remain shut till Monday. Vice-principal Irfan Ahmad said, “We remember Aatif as a good and obedient student who scored over 90% in exams. I saw many of his friends crying at the funeral. We are planning to go to his house again to express our condolences.”
There was a virtual shutdown in Hajin town on Saturday but anger was palpable on the streets, especially against one of the two militants – identified as Ali Bhai – who was active in the area over the last three years. “The militant deliberately held the boy hostage. Many requests were made by local people, security forces and officials to free him but the militant didn’t allow him to leave the house. I have never seen such a thing in my life and I never want to see it again,” said Abdul Majeed, a neighbour.
Aatif’s uncle Abdul Hameed, who was also held hostage but fled when the militants were injured in the gunfight and were ultimately killed, said the boy had been terrified the entire time he was held hostage. “As the firing was going on, I put several blankets around him to keep him safe.
“The militants heard the announcements seeking the boy’s release but they were unmoved. I pleaded with them to free the child, even if that meant I would be killed, but they wouldn’t listen. They opened fire on me but I am lucky the bullets flew past me,” he said.
Aatif’s father, Mohammad Shafi Mir, was inconsolable. “Aatif was very dear to me. He was my only son and the youngest of my children... my daughters are older to him,” he said.
Refusing to blame the boy’s uncle or the forces, he continued, “I was not home when the security forces cordoned our house. My other family members came out but Aatif and his uncle were kept hostage by the militants. They didn’t allow them to come out. The forces made every attempt to save my son. But the militants were adamant not to free him,” he added.
It isn’t clear what the militants were doing in the home, although a police officer suggested that the family may have known the militants. Bandipore senior superintendent of police Rahul Malik said some of Aatif’s family members revealed that the militants, both of whom were killed, had been beating them up.
“There was this theory that Ali wanted to marry some girl in the family and that the family members sent the girl to some other place, so he was demanding that she should be brought back if he were to allow the others (including Aatif) to go out. Basically, he wanted the girl to be brought back,” he added.
Over the past few years, the town and adjoining areas in north Kashmir have gone from being an epicentre of anti-insurgency to a militant stronghold. In the mid 1990s, the town was the base of an anti-insurgency force, Ikhwan, led by Kuka Parray. But in the last three years, militants have made a comeback in the area.
Officials say that some local and foreign militants are active in the area but add that most of them, including some top commanders, were killed last year. A senior police officer dealing with counter-insurgency operations said this is the first time that militants used a boy as a human shield. “There is anger against the killing of the young boy in the entire area,” he said on condition of anonymity.
First Published: Mar 24, 2019 09:08 IST