Srinagar: Two separatist militants -- one of them possibly a Pakistani national -- who were allegedly running a “hi-tech” hideout in a commercial building in Srinagar’s Hyderpora area were killed in an encounter with the security forces overnight.
Two civilians, including a dental surgeon and a trader, were also killed during the clash. While the police on Tuesday insisted that the civilians had been caught in a crossfire, their families alleged that they were used as “human shields” by the security forces.
The police announced it had set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the modus operandi in the running of the “hi-tech” hideout and the circumstances leading to the killing of civilians.
IGP (Kashmir Range) Vijay Kumar expressed regret over the civilians’ killings, but added that “as per our source and digital evidence” one of them was a “top-ranking overground worker” of the militants and the other was apparently harbouring them.
He said one of the slain militants was reportedly a Pakistani national who along with his associate (who is yet to be identified) was running the “hi-tech” hideout in the building owned by businessman Muhammad Altaf Bhat, who is among the two civilians killed in the operation.
“One of the terrorists killed in the operation has been identified as Bilal Bhai. Some call him Hyder. He was probably a Pakistani terrorist and the other is a local terrorist, most probably from Ramban Gool (area of J&K),” the IGP told reporters here.
He said: “It is not clear whether terrorists’ bullets or those fired by the security forces hit the building owner. Terrorists were carrying pistols and it would be clear after investigations as to whose bullet hit him,” he said. He added: “As far Mudassir Gul, he was a top-ranking OGW, involved deeply in militancy. He was deceptively doing some business but in the garb of it running a terrorist module. He would bring terrorists from south and north Kashmir to his home (in Srinagar) from where they would operate,” he alleged.
The IGP added: “He died in the crossfire, we regret it. If we wanted, we could have saved him. We tried our best, but it was difficult to save him for the firing from both the sides was on.”
Gul’s family strongly denied the police allegations and insisted that he was an innocent civilian murdered in “cold blood”. His sister Sabreena said: “He was innocent. He had no links whatsoever with militants. We now just want his dead body, nothing else. We have been devastated.” The family held a demonstration at Srinagar’s Mushtaq Press Enclave on Tuesday, demanding his corpse so that it could give it a proper burial as per local customs and Islamic tradition. “Let his two small kids be allowed to have one last glimpse of their father,” Gul’s mother pleaded.
Bhat’s daughter Naifah Altaf also said: “Mujhe mere Papa ki mayat chahye (I want my father’s body). We’re two sisters and a brother who is very young. What will we tell him if he asks us about Papa?”
Mr Kumar said since there were some fears of law and order problems, the police decided not to hand over the bodies of the civilians to their families. “We had established contact with the families of Altaf and Mudassir last night and asked them to attend their burial. As we had had apprehension of a law-and-order situation, we took the bodies to district Handwara and buried them there this morning,” he said.
The IGP said a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to be headed by a DIG- rank officer will probe the modus-operandi of the “hi-tech” hideout. “It will also get into the details of whether the terrorists were in touch with any foreign country. The team will also look into the sequence of events that led to the killing of the building owner and terrorist associate,” he said. Asked if it was true -- as reported by some TV channels – that the mobile phones and computers recovered from the encounter site had data pointing to the militants’ links with foreign countries, including the United States, the IGP said it was a matter of investigation and once the full details were available, these would be shared with the media.
After the bloody clash which continued throughout the night, tensions have mounted in Srinagar where hundreds of Central armed police and paramilitary reinforcements fanned out earlier this month for a stepped-up tight security bandobast after a series of targeted killings and other violent acts blamed on separatist militants by the authorities....