An army man was killed in a gunfight with militants while four civilians died in forces firing on protestors during clashes near the encounter site in Khudwani area of south Kashmir’s Kulgam district on Wednesday.
The three Lashkar militants, who were trapped in the area, were rescued alive by locals from debris of a house damaged in the gunfight.
Police CRPF and army men had laid siege around Wani Mohalla locality of Khudwani in Kulgam district late last evening after receiving inputs that three LeT militants including a top commander Azad Malik from Arwani Bijbehara and Bilal Ahmed from Khudwani were hiding in a residential house.
As the forces advanced towards the house where militants were hiding, they came under fire from militants, sources said.
They said couple of army men were injured in the gunfire and they were taken to Army hospital in Srinagar, where one of the critically injured trooper identified as Sada Gunakara Rao belonging to 1 RR succumbed to injuries.
The gunfight instantly triggered clashes near the encounter site in the middle of night despite heavy rainfall.
The exchange of gunfire stopped overnight but the firing resumed in the morning.
More locals attempted to march towards the gunfight site in the morning and pelted stones on the forces deployments to pave way for militants to escape.
Army drones hovered over the area to keep surveillance and choppers were also pressed into service. The army men from the choppers fired several rounds towards the house where from militants were firing on troops.
As the encounter continued, forces blew up the house with an IED. The fire spread to adjacent house and a godown leading to massive damage to these structures.
The intense clashes between locals and troops continued throughout the day. The force personnel fired bullets, pellets and tear gas shells to disperse the protestors.
Over 60 people sustained bullet and pellet injuries. Four of the critically injured succumbed to injuries while some injured were referred to Srinagar hospitals for specialised treatment.
The deceased were identified as Sharjeel Ahmad Sheikh, (28), son of Hamid Sheikh of Khudwani, Bilal Ahmad Tantray (16), Faisal Illahi (14) of Melhoora Shopian and Aijaz Ahmad Palla of Bijbehara.
Sharjeel was declared brought dead in district hospital Anantnag while Faisal and Bilal, both with bullet injuries, were declared brought dead by doctors in Public Health Centre Qaimoh.
Aijaz Ahmed Palla died on spot at Khudwani bridge after being hit by bullet in the neck.
Family of Sharjeel said he was shot dead inside the compound of his house when he went to the bathroom.
A top health official said nine injured were brought to District Hospital Kulgam, who were referred there from PHC Qaimoh.
“Of the nine injured, six with multiple pellet injuries were referred to SKIMS, Srinagar,” he said.
The official said 51 injured with pellet and bullet injuries were received at PHC Qaimoh.
He said most of them were discharged by evening as the injuries were not grievous.
“Another 11 injured were taken to District Hospital Anantnag and four of them were referred to Srinagar hospitals for specialised treatment, the official said adding six more injured were also brought to Sub District hospital Bijbehara for treatment.
He said two out of six injured referred from Kulgam hospital to Srinagar have suffered multiple pellet injuries in eyes and may lose vision.
A police official said troops lifted cordon to avoid further civilian casualties.
“We lifted the cordon in the area as the locals had managed to come too near at the gunfight site. The only reason to retreat from the area was to prevent further loss of life or damage to property”, he said.
After the exchange of fire stopped at around 2 pm, authorities brought couple of bulldozers to retrieve the bodies of militants.
However, the stiff resistance from the locals forced the army and police to retreat from the area with hundreds of people thronging the gunfight site.
People then began to lift the rubble after which three local militants were pulled out alive.
After being rescued, the militants roamed in the Khudwani area and clicked selfies with the locals and performed stunts on a bikes with thousands chanting pro-militant slogans.
“It is a rare sight to see people celebrating over a debris. We had no idea as to why people are celebrating until we saw two militants emerging from a crowd firing bullets in the air. A total of three militants came out alive despite heavy shelling and firing over them by forces for around 16 hours,” said a group of youth.
The locals said two militants including Bilal and another militant rode the bike and performed stunts attracting loud cheers and sloganeering from the crowd at Khudwani chowk, a stone throw away from the gunfight site. The third militant had an injury in the leg and was carried on shoulders by the locals amid pro-militant and pro-freedom sloganeering.
“The mother of militant accompanied him,” they said.