Slain officer Lt Ummer Fayaz’s killers among 12 militants gunned down in Kashmir; 3 soldiers dead
Two men allegedly involved in abducting and killing 22-year-old army officer Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz last May were among 12 militants killed in three simultaneous gun battles in south Kashmir on Sunday as the Valley saw its deadliest day so far this year, with three army soldiers and four civilians also dying during exchanges of fire.
More than 50 people suffered bullet and pellet injuries in clashes that erupted around the encounter sites, security officials said. The three security operations – at Dragad and Kachdoora in Shopian district, and at Dialgam in Anantnag district – were the biggest counter-insurgency offensive in a single day in recent years, according to officials. All three sites are within a 50-km radius and the fire exchanges that started late on Saturday night continued well into Sunday afternoon.
Two of the three encounter sites saw large-scale clashes between civilians and security forces. Hundreds of civilians tried to march towards Dragad and Kachdoora in an attempt to help the militants escape, police said.
“Encounter concluded. One more terrorist body recovered from Shopian encounter site. In all 12 terrorists neutralised (one more being ascertained), 3 soldiers martyred and 1 terrorist caught alive. It’s unfortunate that stone pelting around encounter site cost 4 civilian deaths,” Jammu and Kashmir director general of police (DGP) SP Vaid tweeted.
General officer commanding (GoC) of Srinagar-based 15 Corps Lt Gen AK Bhatt said this was the “biggest” security operation in a long time. “I would not know the numbers before this, but yes, this is a large number of terrorists,” he said.
Among the militants killed at Dragad were Ishfaq Malik and Reyaz Thokar who were allegedly involved in the killing of Lieutenant Fayaz, who was abducted from a wedding at a relative’s house and shot dead in Shopian.
“We have avenged his (Fayaz’s) death,” said Lt Gen Bhatt.
Malik and Thokar were with the homegrown militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen and also Shopian residents, police said.
At Dialgam, a Hizb militant identified as Rouf Khanday was killed after he refused to listen to appeals from police and even his relatives to surrender and opened fire on security forces. There was another militant with Khanday, but he surrendered. Police declined to release the surrendered militant’s name.
Vaid lauded the effort to reach out to the militants under trying circumstances. “At Dialgam, our senior superintendent of police (SSP) made a special effort, which is unheard of in any other part of the world. He called the family members of the terrorists, got them to talk to both for about 30 minutes to convince them to leave the path of violence, but unfortunately, he (Khanday) did not heed the call of his family.”
The biggest toll was at Dragad, where forces gunned down seven militants — six from the Hizbul Mujahideen and one from the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The owner of the house in which the militants were holed up was also killed, police said, but did not clarify the circumstances of his death.
Shopian resident Zubair Ahmad Turray, 24, who had joined militant ranks last year after releasing a video on social media, saying “tyranny” and “illegal detention” led him to become an insurgent, was among those killed at Dragad.
Police said four militants and three soldiers were killed at Kachdoora. Three civilians were also killed at Kachdoora. Police said one of them was caught in crossfire, while the circumstances of the other two deaths were not immediately clear.
Security forces opened fire and lobbed tear-gas shells to disperse protesting civilians. Vaid said 25 people were hit by pellets, while six received bullet injuries. Hospital data, however, showed more than 50 people were injured.
On the killing of the militants, Vaid said, “It is painful for all of us to see the loss of young lives. That is why I appeal again to the parents of the boys who have taken the wrong path that they should convince their wards to leave the path of violence and return home.”
Zulfiquar Hasan, inspector general (operations), Kashmir sector, of the CRPF said there was an “unprecedented law and order situation” in Shopian. “There was a design to help the terrorists. A lot of people went there. What we would like to make clear is that our operations won’t stop. Some people, under the influence of anti-nationals, try to disturb the operations. We will handle the crowd with restraint but, at the same time, we will not shy away from taking very strict action.”
Hasan requested people to stay away from encounter sites. “At an encounter site you have heavily armed terrorists who fire in all directions and anybody can get killed and hurt, which has happened today,” he said.
Counter-insurgency offensives have seen a marked rise in recent months. On March 21, two policemen, three soldiers and five militants were killed in a gun battle in the forests of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district.