Among scores of mourners at the one-storey house of Shehbaz Ahmad Najar, 17, was his cousin Firdous Ahmad Najar.
Shehbaz was among the seven civilians killed in clashes with the security forces after an encounter in Pulwama on Saturday.
Firdous was one of the witnesses of the encounter in which three militants and a soldier were killed.
He alleges that at the break of the dawn on Saturday, the army knocked at the gate of his house and took him, his brother and two neighbours along as hostages.
“The Army let off my elder brother and he returned home. They took me, my younger brother and two neighbours along as hostages. They asked us to switch off our mobile phones. Other three had no mobiles with them, I handed over my mobile to my family,” claims Firdous, who is a teacher by profession.
Firdous alleges the army asked them to search a poultry farm, which they suspected to be the hideout of militants.
When they found nothing, the search started in the open field again. The field is separated by a deep, narrow canal with steep sides. It is there the Army found stacks of logs and two pairs of shoes.
“The Army asked us to remove the logs,” says Firdous. He says as he removed the logs, the army men behind them started firing as the militants came out from their hideout. The militants had dug a hideout in an apple orchard in Kharpora village in Srinagar.
“We threw ourselves on the ground,” says Firdous. He alleges the army didn’t allow them to run when the encounter was on.
In the ensuing encounter, which started at 8 a.m. and lasted for around 15 minutes, three militants, who had come out from the hideout, were killed. An army solider also died.
The three militants were Zahoor Ahmad Thoker, a resident of Sirnoo village, Adnan Hameed Bhat of Karimabad village and Bilal Ahmad Magray of Rajpora village of Pulwama. Before joining Hizbul Mujahideen militant outfit, Thoker was working with army’s 173 territorial unit till last year.
A police spokesman in Srinagar said Thoker, a resident of Sirnoo, had deserted army last year and joined Hizbul Mujahideen outfit. "He was a known militant commander and was wanted by law for his complicity in a series of militancy crimes including attacks on security establishments and civilian atrocities," the spokesman said.
Seven civilians were killed, and dozens were injured in the clashes that followed the encounter.
How The Civilians Were Killed
The villagers of Kharpora, Sirnoo and Karmiabad left their home and ran towards the encounter site after they heard gunshots.
A macadamised road runs along the non-functional poultry farm house made of mud bricks where the militants were killed. On the other side of the road is an open paddy field with apple orchards. This is where the youths were protesting and shouting slogans.
The villagers claim that the army opened fire on them killing around seven and injuring several others.
“It was an open field. There were no stones around. It is a half apple orchard and half paddy fields. Rice fields don’t grow stones. The encounter had ended quickly. They could have fired at the legs of civilian protesters but yesterday (Saturday) they fired to kill,” says Abdul Khaliq Najar, Firdous’ father and a retired teacher.
“Why don’t they kill us all,” he says.
Touseef Ahmad Mir, one of the civilians killed in the clashes, was a contractual employee in the Power Development Department, say villagers.
Another person who was killed was Aqib Ahmad, a student of Class 9. His friends remember him as good cricketer and an excellent student. They said his father is a labourer.
The villagers allege that while the army was retreating from the fields, they fired at Shehbaz outside his house, near a water tap. “He received the bullet at the back of his head. He died on the spot,” says his uncle Akhtar Hussain.
In Karimabad village is the house of Abid Ahmad Lone, another civilian who died in the clashes. A management degree holder, he had worked and married in Indonesia. He is survived by his wife and a three-month-old daughter.
In a statement, a police spokesman said a search operation was launched jointly by security forces, based on a credible input about the presence of militants in the village.
“During the search operation, in an open field with hideout made by the militants, the hiding militants fired indiscriminately, leading to an encounter. Consequently, army personnel got injured and one army soldier succumbed to his injury while others are being treated at a hospital,” the statement read, adding: “While the operation was going on, a crowd who (sic) came dangerously close from different parts to the encounter site got injured. The injured were evacuated to hospital where unfortunately seven persons succumbed to their injuries. Others who were admitted in the hospital are stated to be stable”.
“The loss of civilians is deeply grieved. Police once again appeals the citizens to remain away from encounter site as it is a prohibited zone which involves significant danger to life because of nature of the encounter,” the spokesman said.
Political parties called the civilian deaths a “massacre”.
“7 dead. There is no explanation for this excessive use of force, none what so ever. This is a massacre & that’s the only way to describe it,” former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted.
7 dead. There is no explanation for this excessive use of force, none what so ever. This is a massacre & that’s the only way to describe it.— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) December 15, 2018
“How long are we going to shoulder the coffins of our youngsters? So many civilians killed today post encounter in Pulwama. No country can win a war by killing its own people. I strongly condemn these killings, and once again appeal for efforts, to stop this bloodbath,” former CM Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.
How long are we going to shoulder the coffins of our youngsters? So many civilians killed today post encounter in Pulwama. No country can win a war by killing its own people. I strongly condemn these killings , and once again appeal for efforts , to stop this blood bath .— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) December 15, 2018
Directly laying blame on the Governor Satya Pal Malik, she said, “No probe enough to bring back the dead innocent civilians. South Kashmir has been reeling under fear for the last 6 months. Is this what was expected from Gov rule? The admin has failed in securing civilian lives,” she said.
No probe enough to bring back the dead innocent civilians.South Kashmir has been reeling under fear for the last 6 https://t.co/yvGQiUPOel this what was expected from Gov rule?The admin has failed in securing civilian lives. Deepest condolences to the bereaved.— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) December 15, 2018