Srinagar: Authorities in Jammu & Kashmir have imposed indefinite curfew or curfew-like restrictions in major towns, including Srinagar, after civilians clashed with security forces over the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Sabzar Ahmed Bhat on Saturday.
Bhat, Burhan Wani's successor, was killed along with an accomplice in a fierce fire fight with security forces in Kashmir’s southern Tral region. Earlier on Saturday, six infiltrating militants were killed by the Army in an encounter raging in Rampur sector of the Line of Control (LoC), the officials said.
Also, at least, one person was killed and scores others were injured in clashes with security forces as many parts of the Valley following Bhat’s killing. In view of heightened tensions and widespread disturbances, the authorities have also suspended internet services in several parts of Kashmir.
The officials in Srinagar said that the fire fight began in Tral’s Soimoh village after the security forces launched an operation to flush out militants who had earlier on Friday evening targetted an Army patrol with gunfire in a neighbouring hamlet. Jammu and Kashmir’s Director General of Police, Shesh Paul Ved, confirmed that Bhat is among the two militants killed.
The other slain militant has been identified as Faizan Muzaffar, a teenager who had joined the Hizb ranks only recently. A third militant said to be the Hizb’s Aadil Ahmed was also reportedly with Bhat when the encounter started but his fate is not known, a local source said.
A statement issued by the J&K police here said that on Friday evening a patrol party of the Army’s 42 Rashtriya Rifles came under militant fire at Hurdimir outside Soimoh village of Tral.
“The fire was returned and the militants took shelter in the nearby houses,” it said adding that subsequently a cordon-and-search operation was launched jointly by the J&K police’s counterinsurgency Special Operations Group (SOG), the 42 Rashtriya Rifles and 180 Battalion of the CRPF. “The militants hiding in the houses again opened fire on the joint team, triggering an encounter,” the statement said.
Spontaneous clashes erupted in several parts of the Valley after the news of Bhat’s killing broke. Clashes between irate crowds of youth and the security forces were reported also from encounter site in Tral’s Soimoh village.
Reports from Tral said that one person identified as Moulvi Aaqib was killed and 19 others were injured in security forces’ firing on violent protesters near the encounter site. Hospital sources said that six persons were admitted with bullet and the rest with pellet injuries.
The police, however, said that the slain civilian was caught in crossfire between militants and security forces at Soimoh. “During the cross firing one more person was injured who was rushed to the Tral hospital where he succumbed,” a police spokesman said. The locals insisted on him being shot by security forces during protests. At least, six policemen were also injured in stone-pelting, the officials said
The protests later spread to all the districts of the Valley except Budgam. The areas elsewhere in the Valley which witnessed streets clashes and stone-pelting incidents fall in the districts of Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag, Srinagar, Baramulla and Kupwara. At most places, the traders brought their shutters down and vehicles were withdrawn in a chaotic situation. Media persons were denied access to the encounter site in Tral, reports said. “We were not allowed to go close to the encounter site by the security forces. Tral is very tense and people are out on the streets chanting slogans in praise of Sabzar and for freedom,” said Zubair Ahmed Dar, a reporter, over the phone from Tral.
A report from Anantnag said that at least 35 injured persons were admitted to the district hospital following clashes occurred in different parts of Anantnag town and its neighbourhood. One of the seriously injured persons has been referred to a Srinagar hospital for specialized treatment, doctors at the district hospital said.
Amid heightening tensions and clashes, the authorities announced imposition of restrictions in various parts of the Valley. Also mobile Internet and pre-paid mobile phone services have been suspended to restrain the “spread of rumours” and use of social media to provoke violence. The broadband services on fixed lines too have been affected in some Valley areas. The suspension of the Internet came a day after the State government lifted a month-long ban on, at least, 22 social networking websites.
On hearing the news about Bhat’s killing, the students of various educational institutions across the Valley left their classes midway and took to the streets at many places yelling pro-freedom slogans. The police and the CRPF faced tough time while dealing with the situation at places, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The police statement said that stone-pelting incidents were reported from about two dozen places in the Valley including on police establishments and security forces’ camps. “They also pelted stones on the moving vehicles on the busy roads and in the chowks (intersections),” the statement said adding that the security forces rushed to control the situation also came under stone-pelting resulting into the injuries to 25 of them. “The police and security forces personnel showed utmost restraint in tacking these unruly mobs,” the statement added.
Latest reports from Tral said that the bodies of the slain militants have been handed over to the families for performing their last rites. In Srinagar, the alliance of key separatist leaders –Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik, issued a call for two day shutdown from Sunday to mourn and protest the killing of Bhat and other militants and also ‘Tral Chalo’ on May 30 “to express solidarity with the bereaved families”. Most separatist leaders and prominent activists have been placed under house arrest “as a preventive measure”. However, Malik reached Tral where he was addressing the protesters when reports last came in.
Separately, six infiltrating militants were killed in a clash with Army troops in Uri sector of the Line of Control (LoC) in Baramulla district. The incident comes a day after the Army had said it stopped an infiltration attempt backed by the Pakistan army along the de facto border by killing two intruders believed to be the members of a Pakistan army Border Action Team (BAT).
Bhat had succeeded Burhan Wani, the popular Internet-savvy commander of Kashmir’s frontline indigenous militant outfit, whose killing by security forces on July 8 last year had resulted in massive violence in the Kashmir Valley.
In the five-month long turbulence, more than 80 civilians and two policemen had died and thousands injured, mainly in security forces’ firings and other actions besides leaving behind trails of destruction of infrastructure.
Also, over 4,000 security personnel were injured in stone-pelting incidents and mob violence....