They alleged that the trio was killed in a staged encounter, which started in the HMT area near Srinagar-Bramullah highway on the afternoon of December 29. The three youth killed in the encounter were identified them as Zubair Ahmad Lone, I his early 20’s from Turkawangam area of Shopian, Ajaz Maqbool Ganai, in his early 20’s of Putrigam and Athar Mushtaq, a teenager, from Bellow of Pulwama districts of southern Kashmir.
The relatives and neighbors of slain youth protested outside the Police Control Room here in Srinagar, where bodies of the trio were brought for medico-legal formalities before transporting them to the graveyard in Ganderbal district of central Kashmir, which is over 120 kms from their hometowns in southern Kashmir. They raised anti-India slogans and demanded that the bodies should be returned for burial at native places. The family members weren’t given the bodies and asked to travel to Ganderbal for identification and participation in last rites.
The burials of militants at isolated places, away from native places was started in wake of Covid19 pandemic, but police says it has worked to scuttle massive funerals, control law and order situation, stopped glamorization of militancy which occurred during and after the funerals. The militants are buried in presence of a magistrate and few relatives—if they manage to reach there—majorly in three officially selected graveyards in Baramullah and Handwara districts of northern Kashmir and Sonamarg in Ganderbal district of Central Kashmir.
At PCR a relative of Athar Mushtaq, claimed that he saw Athar in his village on Tuesday (December 29) afternoon. “How did he reach the HMT area? Who transported him there? He was studying in 11thstandard with no connection to militancy,” said Manzoor Ahmad, his uncle. A neighbor of Zubair Ahmad Lone said that he was a mason doing work regularly and had no connection with the militants. “He was with me on Tuesday morning and we meet very regularly,” said a friend of Lone, who was present at PCR.
“Aijaz left home around 10:30am on Tuesday to submit some form at Kashmir University in Srinagar. At 3:01pm, he called me saying that the battery of his mobile phone was low and he may have to stay back in Srinagar. He said he ate biryani for lunch. Then his phone was switched off,” said Aasiya, sister of Ganai. She informed that Ganai had completed his graduation and was not a militant. “He had an acute backache due to a slip disc and doctors had advised for an operation. He was a civilian,” said Aasiya.
The encounter took place a few days after J&K police filed a charge sheet in another ‘fake encounter’ case in which three young labourers from Rajouri were killed in Shopian district of southern Kashmir in July this year. They were labeled as militants, however, the chargesheet filed in the court accused Captain Bhoopendra Singh of Army’s Rashtriya Rifles 62 battalion and two others of conspiring and killing the three youth, who had come to the valley for work.
The Army claimed that they were getting regular inputs of the militant movement on the national highway and the operation was launched on Tuesday afternoon after confirming the presence of militants in a house close to the national highway in HMT area. The army had inputs of a possible attack on the highway around January 26.
“They were asked to surrender, however, they responded with firing. Operation was halted for the night but the cordon was tightened. In the morning they again started firing and hurled grenades at the forces…then the exchange of fire intensified and all three of them were killed,” said H S Sahi, General Officer Commanding (GoC) Kilo Force. Sahi was flanked by commander of 10 sector RR, Naresh Mishra and SP Srinagar (West) Shahzad Salaria.
J&K Police version
The J&K police in its official statement informed that the three youth killed in the encounter were not mentioned in their list of militants. However, two of them were hardcore Over Ground Workers of militants and one of them –Athar—is relative of a militant Rayees Kachroo, who was killed in 2017.
“Although the three killed terrorists in todays encounter were not mentioned in our list of terrorists, yet two of them are hardcore associates of terrorists (OGWs). Pertinently, one of the two is a relative of top HM commander Rayees Kachroo who was killed in 2017. Reportedly, third might have joined very recently,” read the official statement of J&K police.
The police stated that on December 29, around 05:30pm troops of 02RR launched a cordon and search operation on a specific input near Hokersar near HMT, where the militants hurled grenades on the searching party and fired indiscriminately on troops while laying cordon. On receipt of this information Srinagar police immediately along with police component Srinagar and Valley QAT CRPF rushed to the spot.
“The operation ended over at 11:30hrs in which all the 03 hiding terrorists were killed. Upon their search, arms (One AK 47 rifle & two pistols) and ammunition and other incriminating material along with some documents were recovered,” read the official statement. The police have registered a case under relevant sections of law and investigation has been initiated.
The statement also read that several OGWs after throwing grenades and pistol shooting stay normally with their family. The Inspector General of Police in Kashmir Vijay Kumar has requested the parents to keep close watch of their wards and keep strict vigil about their day to day activities to ensure that they may not indulge in any subversive activities.