Srinagar: A day after the army claimed to have killed three local militants in a gunfight in the Hokersar area of Srinagar outskirts, the locals living in the area said they didn’t see any militant activity or suspicious movement in the area.
Contrary to it, the locals alleged, a few days ago, the army visited the house where the encounter took place.
The encounter took place at an abandoned house in Srinagar’s HMT area where the army claims the suspected militants were holed up.
“We didn’t find any militant in the house as claimed by the army. If there were any militants holding up in the house, we would have noticed it,” locals said.
The locals said that only a few days ago, the army had searched the house where the trio were killed.
“Being a highway there is always a heavy deployment of forces in the area. We saw the army entering the same house just three days ago,” they said.
The locals alleged that unlike other encounters, the army neither cordoned the area and nor evacuated the residents to a safer place.
“Everything was normal at around 5 pm. There was no cordon. All shops were open, traffic was plying normally. Then all of a sudden, a large contingent of the army came in the vehicles and started firing towards the house,” a local shopkeeper said.
“We managed to put down the shutters of our shops and ran for safety.”
A family who lives nearby said that the army barged into their house to take positions, “but didn’t let them move to a safer place”.
“We heard some gunshots, but before we could have understood what was happening, the army stormed into our house and started beating us,” they alleged. “We requested the army to let us go, instead they assembled us in a room which was the most vulnerable,” they said.
“The army didn’t only keep us hostage all night, but vandalised our house too. All night, they were making merry, drinking juice and eating whatever they could lay their hands on,” the family alleged.
The locals also alleged that unlike other encounters where both militants and forces exchange fire, not a single shot was fired from the opposite side.
“There is not a single bullet mark in the opposite direction on the roadside from where the army had taken the positions,” they said.
The locals further said the house in which the encounter took place was abandoned, as the family who owns it lives in North Kashmir.
“Nobody lives in the house. The owner of the house lives in Sopore and the family is apparently outside Kashmir,” they said.
The house was lately used as a snooker (game) point, where youth used to visit to spend some leisure hours, but locals said that too was closed down a few months before.
“As of now, nobody was visiting the house. Some youth at times used to visit to play snooker, otherwise it was completely abandoned,” they said.
According to a police statement, the militants were hiding in a building near the highway.
The police identified the suspected militants as Ajaz Maqbool Ganie and Ather Mushtaq from Pulwama district and Zubair Lone from Shopian.
Addressing a joint press conference, General Officer Commanding (GoC) Kilo Force H S Sahi said three militants killed in the encounter were planning a big strike on the highway.
However, the families of the deceased said that they were innocent civilians.
Families demand probe
The families also demanded an impartial probe into the killings.
Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, father of Athar Mushtaq from Putrigam Pulwama told Rising Kashmir that his son was killed in cold blood.
“They snatched the lone hope of the family. My son was buried in Sonamarg nearly 100 kilometres from our home and only five members from the family were allowed to participate in his funeral,” he said.
Wani who is also serving with the police department said his 17-year-old son was studying in class 11th in Higher Secondary Rajpora Pulwama and was preparing for ongoing exams on Wednesday.
“After midday prayers, he had lunch with the family. After he left, we received his call at around 3 pm. After 10 minutes his phone remained switched off.”
Wani said they are deep trauma and shock.
“No one among the police or administration visited our house. Around 12 pm on Wednesday, I got a call from an unknown number and he informed me that Athar was killed in Srinagar.”
“Around 1:15 pm, we reached the Police Control Room (PCR) Srinagar. We begged them to show his face to the family but they refused,” he said.
In Sonamarg, the family was not allowed and they waited for hours and were later allowed without a vehicle.
“We walked around 2 kilometers to have his last glimpse,” Wani said.
“We want justice, so that these things would not be repeated with anyone.”
He alleged that Athar was killed even before the encounter was staged.
He refuted the claims of Police and Army and termed them fabricated.
He said if they were militants, they would have contacted them before launching the encounter.
His uncle Mohammad Shafi alleged that Athar might have been picked up by a local Army unit or police station.
“In the village, the Army has contact numbers of everyone and sometimes they call them and harass them. Many youths in the village were called by the local Army unit,” he said.
Athar is survived by his parents and his elder sister.
Mohammad Altaf Lone, who is brother of slain Zubair Ahmad Lone killed among three in HMT encounter from Turkewagan Shopian said that they have no hope of justice from the government.
“My brother was with the family till 3 pm and around 5 pm a cordon operation was launched at HMT. How can a person from south Kashmir reach Srinagar within 2 hours? It is impossible,” he said.
“We want fair inquiry in the incident and his call details and location should be traced. We cannot now bring our brother back but justice should be delivered,” Lone said.
Two brothers of the Zubair are serving the Police department in Ganderbal and Budgam from the past several years.
While other two brothers are associated with fruit business and slain Zubair was working as a head carpenter.
“He had a clear record both at police and Army. None of our family has any adverse background or militant links. Many locals on Wednesday came here and asserted that they had spotted him around 3pm in the village,” he said.
Lone questioned how a person located in Shopian can reach Srinagar after only two hours.
“How he got the weapon and where his code name was framed. It is all fabricated and he was killed in a staged encounter.”
Another close relative of Zubair, Mohammad Yousuf Shah said Zubair was head carpenter at the local shuttering unit.
He has never participated in any protest demonstration and was not associated with any militant organisation.
“We are demanding a fair investigation in the case and his mortal remains should be buried in his native village,” Shah said.
While the family of Aijaz Maqbool Ganie from Putrigam Pulwama narrated the same tale and stated that Aijaz was the only hope of the family.
Slain Aijaz is also a son of a policeman Mohammad Maqbool Ganie who is posted in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district.
Bashir Ahmad Ganie, Aijaz’s grandfather, said he informed the family that he has to go to Srinagar.
Aijaz had recently completed his graduation from Degree College Pulwama and was going to submit a form at University in Srinagar.
Abrar Ahmad, a friend of Aijaz told Rising Kashmir that he made a last call to his sister at 4 pm on Wednesday and he informed her not to worry as he was in Srinagar. He recalls that Aijaz was a ray of hope for his family and his nature was different from other boys in the village. (RK)