A civilian was killed in the firing during the ambush laid by Army in Kupwara triggering massive clashes in the frontier district.
The civilian, Asif Iqbal Bhat, 24, was killed in an army ambush at Thandipora village of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district last night. A driver, Asif, according to local sources, received head injury due to bullet allegedly fired by Army in an ambush when he came out of his home to ferry a local patient to a hospital.
“The moment he came out of his home, a volley of fire broke the lull and Bhat collapsed on the ground. He was hit by a bullet on the head,” they said.
Victim’s brother Majid Iqbal told reporters that his father, an employee of forest department, received a phone call on Saturday night from a neighbour seeking his son’s cab to ferry a patient to hospital.
“My father received a phone call from a passenger seeking cab for a pick up at Batpora. As my brother (Asif) ventured out, a moment later, I heard a heavy gunfire. When I tried to move out, the family came and informed me that Asif has been killed. When we moved out, we were also targeted; bullets were also fired at our house. We ran back to the house, but I confronted family and managed to move again only to see my brother in a pool of blood,” said Majid. He said that he found even empty cartridges strewn outside.
Asif was moved in a critical condition to Sub District Hospital Kralpora where from he was referred to Srinagar hospital, but succumbed to injuries at Sopore.
As the news of Asif’s killing spread, witnesses said, people including women and children came out on roads at Batpora on Kralpora-Karnah road and staged a massive protest against the army.
The protestors were chanting pro-Zakir Musa, pro-freedom and anti-India slogans and sought action against the forces involved in the killing.
Witnesses said people from Batpora and its adjoining areas came out on streets and started marching towards Thandipora, but Police arrived and intercepted the protestors from marching further. After this youth resorted to stone pelting on forces who in retaliation used tear smoke shells to disperse the crowd. During the clashes, nearly ten cops including Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kupwara Shamsher Hussain were injured. However, clashes subsided after police assured people that action will be taken against the guilty.
A Police spokesperson said that Police and civil administration will provide all help to the bereaved family. Army, however, said that the civilian was killed in cross firing between forces and militants during the ambush.
“Based on information about presence of militants in Thindpura village, army placed ambushes to maintain surveillance over the area on the night of 16/17 December. At around 10:55 pm, ambush party observed the suspicious movement of three persons near a nallah in the village. The individuals were challenged by troops, however, they did not respond. Thereafter, militants opened fire towards army ambush party which was retaliated and in the crossfire, Asif was killed due to gunshot wound,” Srinagar-based army spokesperson, Col Rajesh Kalia said. “Investigations on the incident are in progress,” he added.
Meanwhile, police have registered an FIR and started an investigation into the incident.
The incident seems to be a clear violation of special operation procedure (SOP) which needs to be following in any counter-insurgency operation in Kashmir.
According to sources, army had laid ambush without taking the assistance of local police. SSP Kupwara told Rising Kashmir that police was not assisting army in the ambush. “Police was not part of ambush and army had not informed the police about it. Normally Army informs about anti-militancy operation but we don’t know why Army didn’t inform police about this ambush,” SSP Hussain said.
He said police was busy in maintaining “law and order situation” in the area and were not able to take versions of either locals or army about the incident.
As per the SOP laid down for the anti-militancy operations in Kashmir, army has to work in tandem with local police. The Police have to make an announcement through public address system about the operation. It has to tell the residents to leave the area and in case “anybody did not leave he/she will be responsible for any untoward before starting the search operation.”
Sources said that no announcement was made by army since the police was not part of the operation. Meanwhile, police handed over the body of deceased youth to family for last rites after completion of medico-legal formalities. Witnesses said thousands of people participated in the funereal prayers.