5 civilians die in explosion after encounter, 3 militants killed in gunfire in J&K’s Kulgam
Five people, who rushed to a house where an encounter had taken place in Kashmir’s Kulgam district, were killed in an explosion at the site after the gunfight ended on Sunday with the three militants being killed.
The deaths have triggered anger in Kashmir as people have questioned why the encounter site was not cleared before leaving it open for the public. Although there have been instances of civilian deaths due to leftover explosives near encounter sites in Kashmir, it is for the first time in the recent past that such a high number of civilians were killed in such an incident.
Three militants had been killed in the encounter in the house that started during an early morning cordon and search operation carried out by security forces in Laroo village of Kulgam. Once the firing stopped, local residents went too close to the encounter site before the security forces had time to check the area for explosives, according to police.
A police spokesperson said the civilians had been advised to stay away as police teams had to check the area for explosives once the fire near the encounter site was doused.
“They didn’t listen and visited the spot immediately after forces withdrew... Some explosive substance went off resulting in injuries to civilians,” the spokesman said.
Kulgam deputy commissioner Shamim Ahmad Wani later said that five people had died. Over 30 people are reported to have been injured in the blast. The ages of the dead identified as Ubaid Laway, Tajamul, Irshad Padder, Ozair Ahmad and Mansoor were not known. Wani also announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 1 lakh to the families of the dead civilians.
A resident of Kulgam, living in the vicinity of the encounter site, said that the house was damaged due to the explosives used by both sides. He said that after the encounter ended he was surprised why the security forces did not clear the house or at least stop people from visiting the place. “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 air. Had security forces cleared the debris, this would not have happened,” said the resident who did not want to be named.
Superintendent of police Kulgam, Harmeet Singh said that they left the area after retrieving bodies of 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 as well. So using a 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 the people did not listen,” he said.
He said that the three slain militants identified as Shahid Ahmad, Zubair and Ayaz Makroo were all locals belonging to Jasih-e-Mohammad outfit.
In a joint statement, Advisor to the Governor K Vijay Kumar and state police chief Dilbag Singh appealed to civilians to avoid encounter sites till the area is properly sanitized. They said, according to reports, the civilians had rushed to the site after the encounter was over, resulting in casualties in the blast as the area was yet to be sanitized.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah described the civilian casualties as terrible news.
“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?” Abdullah tweeted.
Former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti also mourned the incident. “Extremely saddened by the news of the 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.
The separatists have called for a shutdown on Monday against the civilian deaths.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the joint resistance leadership (JRL) also called for a protest at the city centre, Lal Chowk, to condemn the killing of civilians and ‘armed youth’.
Pandits living in Kashmir have supported the shutdown call given by the members of JRL.
“It is mandatory for security forces to sanitize the area where encounter happens to safeguard the lives of the civilians. It seems that the security forces take these basic things casually, which resulted in today’s incident in which 5 civilians got killed and nearly 43 persons got severely injured,” said Sanjay K Tickoo, president of Kashmiri Pandit Sangarash Samiti.