Monday, Sep 26, 2022

Forces Did Not Follow Standard Practice: Kashmiri Villagers On Blast At Encounter Site

Seven civilians, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed in an explosion at an encounter site at Laroo in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kulgam

A man sitting on the debris of his house in which militants were trapped and subsequently killed by security forces in Laroo, Kulgam, on Sunday Photo by Muneeb ul Islam

A day after seven people, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed in an explosion at an encounter site at Laroo in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kulgam, scores of people were found visiting the burnt house here. Men, women, youths and even children were seen taking rounds of the house of Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, which turned into rubble during the gunfight between the militants and the security forces on Sunday morning. Three militants of Jaish Muhammad outfit were killed in the encounter. An hour later, some left over explosives went off killing seven civilians. 

Sitting at the remains of his burnt house, an aged man Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, alleged that the security forces didn’t allow his family to move out during the gunfight, which otherwise is a standard practice. He said his son, Sheraz Ahmad Bhat, his wife and his three grandchildren were in the kitchen while gunfight was raging between the militants and the forces. He said they were not given an opportunity to come out till Sunday morning. According to him, the family was asked to come out only after their neighbours raised a hue and cry and insisted that the holed up family be permitted to move out of the house. Bhat said his family came out of the house only when the gunfight had ended.

Bhat also alleged that no effort was made by the security forces to sanitize the place after the encounter and clear it of explosives. The police have now informed that they would clean the place on Wednesday, he said.  

As Bhat started talking stoically about his fate, many of his neighbours joined him and said that there was no stone throwing in the area while the gunfight was on. One of the neighbours said the forces moved out of the area taking the bodies of the three militants along after the encounter ended. He said the forces could have stopped for a while to clear the encounter site as they used heavy ammunition during the gunfight. “We feel it (not clearing the site) was a deliberate act to punish people. They knew something will blow up here. Given the damage and injuries the blast has caused, it seems that it was not a mere grenade,” locals here alleged. 

As all the civilians killed were residing in and around Larnoo village, there was mourning in every house here.  Some distance away from the encounter site, people were visiting in droves the house of 17-year-old Mohammad Mukeem Bhat, who was killed in the blast. “It was his exams today as he was studying in 12th class. He would seldom come out of his room these days. He was very studious,” said one of his close relatives. However, on Sunday, after the night long gunfight, Muqeem, like others, went to see the house, which was damaged in the encounter. Muqeem fell on the ground with others when the blast took place and died on the spot.

Another youth who was killed at the encounter site was 18-year-old Talib Maqbool Laway, a B.A 1st year student in the Degree College, Kulgam. His father had died 16-years-ago when their house was pulled down in the road widening. It was his mother, Naseema, who raised Talib and his sister and educated them. Talib had gone to the encounter just to see what had happened. After the blast at the encounter site, he was taken to Kulgam district hospital by a relative on a motorbike. “He thought he was alive. But he had succumbed to injuries on the way. The relative and another person who brought him here on his motorbike recognized his face only after reaching the gate of the hospital. He was shattered,” said a senior doctor at the Kulgam district hospital. 

A 13-year-old boy, Uzair Mushtaq, was critically wounded in the accident and later succumbed on the way to Srinagar hospital. His father, Mushtaq Ahmad, said his child had tea in the morning with him. After the blast, when he didn’t find him, he started looking for him. The father called one of his friends, who informed him that they were taking him to the hospital. “When I reached near Lal Chowk in Srinagar, I was informed to come back home. I realised my son is no more,” said the traumatized father. He said his son had bullet wound in his head. However, officials say all seven people killed in the incident died due to the blast. 

At the Kulgam district hospital, the Medical Superintendent, Dr. G.M. Bhat, said that three persons were brought dead to the hospital. “We referred another three to the SMHS and the rest we treated here,” says Dr. Bhat. “It was (a) terrible day as civilians had shocking injuries,” he said