Days after the Army admitted its officer and his two civilian accomplices killed three young boys in a fake encounter in July, another encounter has come under the cloud of suspicion in Srinagar, where three youths were killed today.
Their families alleged that they are civilians and were at home with them until yesterday.
They protested outside the police control room (PCR) Srinagar, saying the slain youths were not militants. They said the trio were friends and had gone to Kashmir University in Srinagar for academic registration.
Muhammad Maqbool Ganaie, a head constable in Kashmir police and father of one of the slain youths, Aijaz Maqbool, 20, told reporters that his son left home at 10.15am on Tuesday for Kashmir University.
“At 4.30pm Aijaz called his mother and told her that if they get late then they will stay in Srinagar. At 5pm, his phone was switched off,” Ganaie said.
“He was bedridden for one and a half months as he had developed pain in his vertebrae. After one and half months, he left home yesterday and today they gave me his body,” he said.
Aijaz was planning to take admission in a post-graduate course in Punjab University next year.
“Why did they kill my son in a fake encounter? Why didn’t they kill me instead?” Ganaie asked.
Maqbool was on his way to Sonamarg, nearly 110km from his hometown, to attend the last rites of his son as police do not handover bodies of militants to their families since the past one year.
The other two killed in the encounter are Ather Mushtaq Wani, 16, son of Mushtaq Ahmad Wani of Bellow village in Pulwama district and Zubair Ahmad Lone, 22, Ghulam Muhammad Lone from Turkewagan Shopain.
The relatives staged protests here demanding bodies and calling them civilians.
At a press briefing, General Officer Commanding (GoC) Kilo Force. H.S. Sahi, said, “We had been getting inputs about militant movement on the national highway. The operation was launched last evening after getting inputs that militants were inside a house close to the national highway. They were asked to surrender, however, they responded with firing and the operation was suspended for the night,” he said.
He said when the operation resumed in the morning, they were again given an offer to surrender; however, they again started firing and hurled grenades at the forces, which gave us an indication they had no intention to surrender.” He said they used heavy ammunition and it indicates that they were up to some big operation along the highway.
Police said in a statement issued here, on December 29 at about 5.30pm troops of 02RR launched a cordon and search operation on specific input near Hokersar where militants hurled a grenade on the search party and fired indiscriminately on troops. “On receipt of this information Srinagar police immediately along with police component Srinagar and Valley quick action team and CRPF rushed to the spot,” the statement said, adding that a search party of 2 RR was heavily fired upon by the militants hiding inside the building. They fired back. “Repeated announcements were made to the hiding militants to lay down their illegal weapons and surrender, instead the hiding terrorists fired continuously upon the searching party,” the statement added.
“Due to darkness the operation was suspended however the cordon remained intact throughout night,” the police said. The police said on December 30 morning with the first light repeated announcements were again made to the hiding militants to surrender, but the militants fired indiscriminately on security forces which was retaliated again resulting in elimination of militants.
The police said the operation ended over at 11.30am in which all the three militants were killed. The police said upon their search, arms, one AK-47 rifle and two pistols and ammunition and other incriminating material along with some documents were recovered. He said from the recoveries their identity has been established as Ajaz Maqbool Ganie, Ather Mushtaq, both residents of Pulwama, and Zubair Lone, a resident of Shopian.
The police said some families from South Kashmir came to PCR and claimed them to be their wards. The police said they have been sent to Ganderbal for further identification and participation in last rites in the presence of the magistrate.
“In this connection a case under relevant sections of law has been registered and investigation has been initiated,” the police said.
Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti described the allegation of fake encounter as “worrying”. She said in the past few months after the Shopian fake encounter, other families too in J&K have alleged that their sons were innocent and killed in staged encounters. “Authorities need to come clean on this,” she said.
The National Conference on Wednesday sought time bound inquiry into the circumstances leading to the killing of three persons at an encounter site in Hokarsar area of Srinagar suburbs, saying justice must be immediately delivered by investigating the matter on impartial, fast-track basis.
The party’s additional spokesperson Sarah Shah said the versions of people and family pertaining to the killing of three people at an encounter site in Srinagar suburbs is contradictory, therefore, the situation necessitates the constitution of a fact-finding team that could reveal the circumstances that will probe the matter on a fast-track basis.
Shopian fake encounter
Early this week, J&K Police filed a chargesheet in the Shopian fake encounter case revealing the three victims were taken to the spot by an Army captain and his civilian accomplices before being shot dead in cold blood.
The chargesheet said the three civilians were taken in a pre-arranged vehicle by the Army captain and his two aides and they were taken to a spot near an orchard and were made to walk before being shot dead.
According to the chargesheet, Army Captain Bhoopendra Singh alias Major Basheer Khan allegedly first abducted the youths with the help of his two accomplices and later killed them and planted weapons and material on their bodies.
On July 18 after the encounter, an army statement had said, “During search terrorists fired upon Army personnel and the encounter started. Later on police and CRPF also joined. During the encounter, three unidentified terrorists were killed. Dead bodies of all the killed three terrorists were retrieved from the site of encounter.”
A day later, the army had given details about the encounter in a press briefing saying that the search party of the Army moved to the target house, which he described as a newly constructed small single house. The army had said when the search party moved inside, it was fired upon from inside the house. “The search party fired back and in the ensuing action three terrorists were neutralized,” the Army had claimed. The Army said the bodies of “terrorists along with their arms and ammunition and IED material which was recovered” from them was handed over to Jammu and Kashmir police.
On August 10, the family members of three laborers from the Rajouri area of Jammu on the basis of photographic evidence, had said the three “unidentified militants” killed in a gunfight in Shopian on July 18 are “in fact their relatives who had nothing to do with militancy and had gone to Shopian in search of work.”
According to Mohammad Yousuf Gujjar, his son, Abrar Ahmad, along with his cousin Abrar Ahmed Khan, son of Bagha Khan, left in search of work to Shopian on July 16. He said their cousin, Imtiaz Ahmad, son of Sabar Hussain, was already in Shopian since June and he had called them. He said they hadn't called home since July 18 and the family thought they might have been put into quarantine. However, on August 9, when they couldn’t get the whereabouts of three persons, including teenager Abrar Ahmad Khan, the families filed a missing person’s reports at a police station in Rajouri. The families said they recognised the slain youths after they saw pictures of their bodies.
The chargesheet said it has been prima facie established that accused Army captain Bhoopendra Singh of 62 RR, two civilians Taabish Nazir and Bilal Ahmad Lone committed offence under section 302 and other sections of the IPC. It says the trio used the route of Chogam Sedow for transporting three abducted victims with a design to murder them at the final stage.
The police have arrested accused Tabish Nazir and Bilal Ahmad Lone and they are lodged in judicial custody. However, Bhoopendra Singh @ Major Basheer Khan of 62 RR is yet to be arrested for procedures under AFSPA and the Army Act. The chargesheet says it is necessary to obtain sanction against him under the AFSPA before he can be prosecuted.
The Army captain and the two civilian accomplices have been accused of staging the encounter and destroying evidence as part of a criminal conspiracy with motive to grab prize money.