SHOPIAN FIRING: Death toll swells to 6, CM says deeply distressed by civilian killings

SRINAGAR, Mar 5: The firing incident in Shopian that left six people, including two Lashkar-e-Taiba militants, dead has triggered a controversy with the Army claiming that the four killed apart from the ultras were also linked with militancy and the state government maintaining that they were “civilians”.
The incident took place in the Pahnoo area of Shopian in South Kashmir last night with the Army stating that its troops, who were on patrolling duty, were fired upon from occupants of two vehicles.
In retaliatory fire, four people, including a Lashkar-e-Taiba militant Amir Ahmed Malik, were killed.
Police recovered the body of another militant, identified as Ashiq Hussain Bhat of Lashkar-e-Taiba, seven kilometres from Pahnoo. A body of a civilian — Gowhar Ahmed Lone of Chitragam in Shopian — was also recovered from another vehicle near the firing incident.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said she was deeply distressed by the killing of “civilians” in “crossfire”.
“Deeply distressed by more deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire in Shopian. My heartfelt condolences to the deceased’s families,” Mehbooba said in a tweet.
Hours after the tweet from the Chief Minister, an Army spokesperson said all those killed in the shootout in Jammu and Kashmir’s Shopian district were linked with militancy and the soldiers acted in self-defence.
Recounting the events of the shootout, the spokesperson said soldiers deployed at the mobile vehicle check post (MVCP) in Trenz-Pinjoora road near Pahnoo village were fired upon by occupants of two speeding vehicles.
The vehicles continued to move despite being signalled to stop by the troops. The soldiers flashed search lights on the approaching vehicles, but the occupants opened heavy fire from both the vehicles, the spokesperson said.
Troops, in self defence, responded and in the ensuing gun fight, one terrorist firing from one of the vehicles was hit and fell off the vehicle, the spokesperson said.
“The vehicle veered off the road towards the nala (stream) and the second vehicle sped off,” he said.
“Three more bodies were found in the vehicle during the search. These individuals were accompanying the terrorist,” he said.
At around 9 AM today, the body of another militant, identified as Bhat, was found from the apple orchards of Saidapora village. Bhat is also “linked” with the same chain of events in Pahnoo village, he said.
Sepratists’ call for a Kashmir bandh to protest the Shopian incident hit normal life in Kashmir and the state government had to order a shut down of all schools, colleges and other educational institutes till Wednesday. They were opening today after a two-month winter break.
The strike called by Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) saw public transport off the roads in most parts of the Valley, but some private vehicles and cabs were seen plying. Train services from Baramulla to Banihal have been suspended as a precautionary measure.
Authorities imposed restrictions in areas falling under seven police stations of the downtown city as a precautionary measure, officials said.
Main opposition party National Conference demanded a probe into the firing incident in Shopian and said the killings cannot be justified by labelling the deceased as overground workers of militant groups (OGWs).
“We are deeply shocked and grieved at the continued and unabated bloodshed in Kashmir. The Shopian killings cannot be justified with an arbitrary, unproven pronouncement of the youth being OGWs,” a spokesperson of the National Conference said.
He said the circumstances leading to killings in last night’s shootout in Shopian should be probed and the report be made public.
State Congress also demanded a probe into the firing incident. In a statement, the JKPCC described the killings as painful and said the people were not satisfied with the Army’s version.
CPM described the killing of “civilians” as “highly deplorable”.
“Whatever is the excuse given by the forces in the latest incident, killing unarmed and uninvolved civilians, it has no justification. Losing precious human lives is most unfortunate,” senior CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami said in a statement here.
Ruling PDP MLA from Shopian Mohammad Yousuf Bhat said civilian killings cannot be justified under any circumstances and they can “vitiate the peaceful atmosphere”.
“No circumstances can justify these civilian killings which can further the tendency to vitiate the peaceful atmosphere,” he said.
Meanwhile Director General of Police S P Vaid today said they were investigating the firing incident in which six people, including two terrorists, were killed by the Army in Shopian district.
Vaid said the situation was under control and appealed to the people of Kashmir to maintain peace.
Two weapons, along with other arms and ammunition, were seized from the possession of the militants, who fired upon a joint check-point of the security forces last night, the DGP told reporters on the sidelines of a function here.
The troops retaliated after they were attacked and bodies of two terrorists and four others were recovered, Vaid said, adding that the matter is being investigated.
Asked whether the deceased were overground workers, he said that is what the Army is saying. “We will see what their affiliation was,” he added.
On the return of a youth from militant ranks to his family, the DGP expressed hope that more women would make an appeal for their sons’ return.
“You have seen six bodies are lying (in Shopian). Taking up arms or joining terrorism only lead to loss of life and nothing can be achieved,” he said.
On recent advertisements in newspapers seeking deportation of Rohingya Muslims, the DGP said the Union government would take a call on the issue.
“It is a matter involving two nations and very soon the Centre will address the issue,” he said.
Mobile internet service of all Cellular companies, including Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), has been suspended in south Kashmir as a precautionary measure to prevent, spread of any rumour following Shopian incident.
With the recovery of two more bodies, on Monday morning, the death toll on Sunday night’s encounter in south Kashmir district of Shopian, raised to six, including two Lashkher-e-Toiba (LeT) militants.
However, the Jammu and Kashmir government has ordered closure of all educational institutions in Kashmir till Wednesday after the firing incident in Shopian district, an official said today.
The state Board of School Education (BOSE) has postponed all the exams scheduled for March 6 and 7.
All the schools and colleges in the valley will remain closed tomorrow and day after as a precautionary measure, an official of the Education Department said.
The schools and colleges, which were to open today after two-month-long winter break, were closed today due to separatists-sponsored strike against the killings.
The Kashmir University has suspended all class-work for tomorrow and postponed examinations scheduled for tomorrow and day after.
“In view of concerns expressed by students and consequent upon the prevailing circumstances, the class-work at University of Kashmir shall remain suspended on March 6,” a spokesman of the university said.
He said all examinations scheduled to be held on March 6 and 7 have been postponed.
“Fresh dates for the deferred examinations shall be notified later,” he added.