Army warns of attacks during Amarnath Yatra. (AP)
SRINAGAR: Three Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) militants – one of them termed by the authorities as being an IED expert – were gunned down during a fire fight with security forces in Jammu and Kashmir’s southern Kulgam district on Friday.
"The IED (Improvised Explosive Device) expert from Pakistan, who operated in the Valley using his codename Waleed Bhai, was among the twelve most wanted militants. His killing is a major achievement for security forces. Soon others too will be neutralized," claimed Inspector General of Police (Kashmir range) Vijay Kumar while speaking to reporters here.
The fighting broke out in Kulgam’s Nagnad-Chimmer area early Friday after the J-K police’s counter-insurgency Special Operations Group (SOG) along with the Army’s 9 Rashtriya Rifles and the 18th Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) laid siege to it to flush out militants dead or alive, the police said. It added that the joint operation was launched on "specific input" generated by the Kulgam police about the presence of militants in the area.
The IGP said that Waleed Bhai had escaped during four such cordon-and-search operations in south Kashmir earlier.
"During the search operation as the presence of terrorists got ascertained they were given the opportunity to surrender. However, they fired indiscriminately upon the joint search party, which was retaliated leading to an encounter," a statement issued by the police here said.
The statement said that slain Waleed Bhai was a Pakistani national and "an IED expert and a most wanted terrorist". The police said that the identifications of the other two slain militants are being ascertained but, at the same time, claimed that all the three belonged to proscribed outfit JeM.
The police statement read, "As per police records, terrorist Waleed was involved in several terrorist attacks including civilian atrocities. He was involved in the killing of four civilians in Kulgam and in luring innocent youth to join terrorist ranks".
The police also said that one US made M-4 carbine, one AK assault rifle, a pistol, a grenade launched, grenades and other incriminating materials were recovered from the site of encounter. An Army commander said that the operation against militants was "full of challenges".
Brigadier VS Thakur, Sector Commander of 9 RR, told reporters, "After getting the information about their presence in Nangad-Chimmer area from the DIG Police, south Kashmir, a siege was laid to the area at around 4.30 am. The first challenge was that there was a single road access to the house where militants were hiding and the closest base was ten to twelve kilometers away." He said that the second challenge was the presence of civilians in the house as well.
He said, "Our troops showed resilience and didn’t even resort to speculative fire to target the house. Instead an appeal was made to the civilians to leave the premises."
The Army officer said that two militants fired indiscriminately at the security force, using small arms and also lobbed grenades with an Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL). However, both of them were killed in the retaliatory fire without causing any harm to civilians or damage to the house where they were hiding.
He further said that when the civilians were coming out of the house, one remaining militant was wearing pheran with a weapon concealing beneath the traditional Kashmiri gown in an attempt to move out with the civilians. "He was physically stopped and when he tried to use his weapon, there was a hand to hand fight between him and a soldier who successfully shot him down. He was the Pakistani militant Waleed," Brigadier Thakur said.
He claimed that the Army has received "credible inputs" that suggest militants are planning to target Amarnath Yatra on a stretch of Jammu-Srinagar highway anytime after the commencement of the pilgrimage on July 21. He said, "This stretch of the highway is a bit sensitive. We are all prepared to foil the militant design and to ensure smooth conduct of the pilgrimage," he asserted.