Srinagar: Security forces on Friday gunned down top Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander Junaid Matto and his close associate in Arwani area of Jammu and Kashmir’s southern Anantnag district.
Matoo carried a bounty of Rs 10 lakh on his head and was active in southern districts of Kulgam, Anantnag, Shopian and Pulwama for the past few years, officials said.
The militants were trapped inside two houses.
Reports from Bijbehara, the nearest town, said that a joint cordon-and-search operation was launched by the Army’s 1 Rashtriya Rifles, the J&K Police’s counterinsurgency Special Operations Group (SOG) and the 90th Battalion of the CRPF in Idgah Mohalla of Arwanu on Friday morning after reports about the presence of LeT militants in the area.
In the afternoon, the security forces detonated Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to blow up the houses in which Matto and his accomplices had taken positions during the gunfight. Both the houses caught fire and Matto and, at least, one more militant were believed to have died, said a police official over the phone from Bijbehara.
He added, “The firing has stopped but the operation is still on.”
Simultaneously, surging crowds of youth clashed with the security forces near the encounter site and the latter opened fire, killing one of the protesters and injuring several others, the witnesses said.
The Valley is tense again after the killing of militants and a civilian in Arwani and another civilian in security forces firing on protesters outside summer capital Srinagar. Earlier on Thursday evening, two policemen were killed and a woman was injured in three separate attacks by militants.
The civilian killed after being hit by a bullet during clashes between protesters and security forces at Arwani has been identified as Muhammad Ashraf Khar.
Reports said that he was rushed to the district hospital in Anantnag but doctors declared him brought dead. Several other locals sustained bullet and pellet wounds in the security forces’ action against protests during the cordon-and-search operation, reports said.
Violent protests have erupted in several areas of Srinagar and in some other parts of the Valley, including the highway town of Pampore.
The Jammu and Kashmir police and the CRPF have swung into action to quell stone-pelting mobs at these places, reports said.
Earlier, a 22-year-old youth Nazir Ahmed was killed when the personnel from Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) opened fire at a stone pelting mob in Rangreth area in central district of Budgam on Thursday evening. The officials said that the SSB personnel were withdrawing from the area when they came under stone-pelting. “They responded with aerial firing in which one youth was injured,” a police official said.
The injured youth was rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors referred him to Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science (SKIMS). The youth, however, succumbed to his injuries while being operated upon at the SKIMS early on Friday, the hospital sources said.
The locals of Rangreth have alleged that the SSB men ‘target fired’ at Ahmad while he was standing near a local shop.
In yet another shooting incident, two youths were critically injured in northern district of Bandipora on Friday. The locals alleged that the Army opened fire on a Sumo car near Chek Reshipora village of Bandipore. The injured have been identified as Muzaffar Ahmed and Fayaz Ahmed Haji. The Army officials said that they have no information about the incident and that they would react to the charge only after ascertaining the facts.
Amid heightened tensions, the train services between Srinagar and Banihal were on Friday suspended “as a precautionary measure in view of the emerging security situation”.
However, services on Srinagar-Badgam section in the central Kashmir to Baramulla in north-western Valley were running as per schedule, officials said.
Internet services were also suspended in the Valley. Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik was detained by the police to prevent him from leading protests planned by an alliance of key separatist leaders. He has been lodged in Srinagar’s Kothi Bagh Police Station, the police sources said.
Kashmir University examinations slated for Saturday have also been cancelled.
The alliance has called for a Valley-wide shutdown on Saturday to mourn and protest civilian killings.
On Thursday evening, two Jammu and Kashmir policemen Shabir Ahmed Dar and Shahzad Dilawar Sofi were killed when targeted with gunfire by militants in Bogund village of southern Kulgam district and Hyderpora locality of central Budgam district, respectively. A third policeman was injured in one of these attacks.
The incidents came close on the heels of the militants striking with impunity across the Kashmir Valley. They carried out four grenade attacks at the security forces’ camps and foot patrols in southern Pulwama district and Srinagar city, leaving over a dozen personnel injured.
After the attacks for which Jaish-e-Muhammad and Al-Umar Mujahedin jointly claimed responsibility, the authorities had sounded a high alert and have asked particularly the CRPF and the J&K police to be more vigilant and thwart reoccurrence of such acts by militants.
In a separate incident, unidentified assailants shot and wounded a woman in Katrasoo village of Kulgam. The victim has been identified as Suraya who was targeted by the gunmen after they barged into her house. “The suspected militants forced their entry into the house of one Muhammad Sharif Bhat at Katrasoo and shot his daughter in the leg. She is being treated at a Srinagar hospital and her condition is stable,” said an police spokesman.