On February 7, 2004, people in Chithaybanday Aragam area of north Kashmir district were left horrified after the village witnessed the worst nightmare after its five unarmed civilians were shot dead by the troopers.
“It was carnage,” locals told Rising Kashmir. “Civilians were targeted and shot from the point-blank,” they said.
Another eyewitness, Muhammad Ashrafn said “We were forcibly dragged out of our houses to search nearby forest and found nothing”
“Army personnel with sophisticated weapons were on our back dragging and directing us to save the troopers from any possible militant assault. After days of search we found nothing till we were asked to enter an opening sighted in the middle of snow bound forest” said Abdul Majeed of Dardpora who was on visit to his in-laws in Aragam on the fateful day, adding “the opening according to army was a hideout of militants.”
It was around 3 PM. Majeed, along with seven other civilians, jump to safer side after bullets starts showering all around them. The forces according to eyewitness acted as if they were attacking hideout out but showered bullets on seven civilians who were dragged from homes during the operation in Chithaybandy area in Aragam area of North Kashmirs Bandipora District. Majeed says he along with others were “used as a human shield” by the army.
“I survived miraculously,” he adds.
Army had killed four militants during the first day of operation but later killed civilians used as human shields during the operation. Out of seven civilians five were killed after following the killing four militants in Aragam forests. Villagers said that before the fateful day army confined crackdown to limited forest area till February 3, and issued a press release of killing nine militants which later proved hoax.
Five persons—including Muhammad Aslam, Muhammad Yaqoob, Farooq Ahmed Charah, Ghulam Jeelani Awan and Muhammad Sakhi Charah were killed while other four persons were injured and many others escaped unhurt. One civilian Mushtaq Ahmed of Nathpora was killed while scores of people were injured in protests that followed. Narrating the ordeal Muhammad Ashraf along with other villagers told Rising Kashmir that Army had killed four militants on the day first of operation but issued official press release stating killing of nine militants. “To fit to count according to official press release army showered bullets on civilians used as human shield,” they said.
Several people who witness the massacre while escaping the fateful event told Rising Kashmir that army resort to indiscriminate firing as if they were drunk. “They (army) asked from us to dig out the hideout and showered bullets on our back, many slide down the snow forest and escaped safely,” said Abdul Rehman an eyewitness. Abdul Majeed who escaped the rain of bullets told Rising Kashmir that first week of Feb 2004 was not less the doomsday for him.
He said that they were happy after Army completed operation and asked from us return home but on reaching camp we were detained and asked to return for the excavation of hide. “As we reached the opening of hideout army showered bullets on us,” he said.
Army continued firing till five persons falls to their bullets while others pretended to be dead, thus survived.”Majeed said. “They (Army) killed four militants and issued press release about the killing of nine militants,” villagers, recalling 2004 carnage, told Rising Kashmir.
5th Feburary 2004 according to villagers was third day of army operations launched on 3rd February then and last for six days till 7th February when four bodies of militants were carried down and kept in an abandoned house but the fate of other villagers picked up by the army was not known till locals raised voice in Aragam.
Troubled by growing public outcry, Army instead of handing over bodies of locals to villagers kept them (bodies) buried under a heap of dry grass in the same abandoned house, probably to give it the name of ‘encounter,’ locals said.
Frustrated with the public anger, Army tried to stage another encounter to by keeping all dead bodies in a house and were preparing near to setting ablaze the house, villagers said.
On February 7, Army early in the morning comes down with five more bodies stating that dead villagers were part of the militant assault; instead of handing bodies to a public they kept them in a same abandoned house under heaps of grass near o douse them up. Locals said all the five bodies were clad in army uniforms.
“Nobody was allowed to see the bodies , and Army was probably in a process to set ablaze the house along with bodies to prove civilians as militants but villagers forcibly barged into the house and find all five civilians clad in army uniform,” Muhammad Yousuf. The killing of civilians was followed by massive protests during which angry protesters attacked the police station.
Processions started from Aragam that swelled up as it passed through lanes and bye-lanes of the Bandipora. Young and old, filled with anger came on the streets. As the procession reached Nowpora Bandipora, Police and SOG fired bullets on them killing one person Mushtaq Ahmed and injuring four others.