Srinagar: It all began with a knock by soldiers two hours past midnight at the door of Mushtaq Ahmad Thakur’s home in remote Dragad-Sugan village.
When Thakur, 36, father of a twins aged 10 came out, the family was shocked as soldiers asked him to accompany then disregarding pleas of his aged parents.
According to the family, the soldiers then asked Thakur to lead them toward a nearby house where they suspected militants were hiding.
As he called out the owner of the house Rafiq Ahmad Nengroo, the militants, eleven in number saw the soldiers approaching and came out. Soon an intense gunfight started raging between government forces and the militants. The army fired a volley of bullets towards the militants outside Negroos three storey house. Thakur was caught unawares and was the first to get killed, according to locals.
“He was used as human shield by the Army,” Thakur’s family alleged.
They said Thakur had received multiple bullets near his throat from a very close range.
“It looked as if his throat was slit,” said Thakur’s elder brother MuhamadMaqbool who lives in a separate house nearby. He said the family learnt about Thakur’s death in the morning after his body was taken away by the police along with seven deceased militants to Zainapora police station.
“Our aged parents are still unaware of the death of their son even as he has been laid to rest,” said Farooq Ahmad, the eldest brother of Thakur, also living in a separate house nearby.
“Our father is ailing and mother has lost eyesight some three years back.”
Thakur leaves behind his twin children, a son and a daughter and 33-year-old wife Raqib who is in a state of shock.
Earlier, at around midnight soldiers, men of the special operation group (SOG) of the state police and paramilitary CRPF after cordoning off the area had zeroed in to half a dozen houses nestled amid apple orchards.
An intense exchange of fire started continuing till 3:00, and then there was lull. Villagers said they could not gather what exactly had happened.
“Only in the morning at around 8:00 am, the army and SOG men asked a few villagers to come out and lead them inside the half a dozen houses including that of (Rafiq Ahmad) Nengroo’s for searches,” said a villager Bilal Ahmad.
He said that there was no militant inside.
“We were then asked to pick up the dead bodies of seven militants lying at three different places and hand them over,” Bilal added.
The locals said as the bodies were being taken away by police agitated people poured out onto the streets shouting pro-freedom slogans and clashed with government forces who retaliated by lobbing tear shells, firing pellets and bullets.
“Two of the civilians sustained bullet injuries and they are being treated at hospital,” locals said.
They seven slain militants were identified as local Hizb militants Adil Ahmed Thoker of Humhuna, Nazim Dar of Nagbal, UbaidShafiMalla of Trenz, YawarItoo of Safanagri-Zainapora, Rayees Ahmed Thoker of Padarpora, and Ashfaq Malik of Pinjura and ZubairTuray of main town Shopian- all from Shopian district.
“Four other local Hizb militants from Shopian including top commander Zeenat-ul-Islam alias Alqama of Sugan village managed to give forces a slip during the initial exchange of fire,” official sources said.
Rafiq Ahmad Nengroo’s wife in whose house 11 militants had taken shelter is the maternal aunt of ZubairTurray.
Turray, 25, had joined Hizb ranks in May 2017 prior to which he was a Tehreek-i-Hurriyat activist and had been booked on charges of stone throwing and organizing street protests in as many as 23 FIRs. He was also incarcerated under PSA on several occasions before escaping from custody from police post Keegam.
A few days later he announced through a video that he had joined militant ranks.
The overnight encounter was one of three gunfights that broke out in South Kashmir on Sunday.
ANOTHER DEADLY SIEGE
In another encounter that broke out in the wee hours in Kachdoora village of Shopian four more militants were killed whose identities and affiliations were being ascertained.
Another body was also lying in police station and it is believed to be of the owner of the house where the shootout took place.
Hundreds of youth marched towards the encounter site and clashed with government forces in a bid to help the trapped militants escape from the cordon.
Three youth were killed and hundreds including women sustained injuries, some with bullets during the clashes as government forces fired tear smoke, shotgun pellets and live ammunition.
People were seen ferrying the injured on the motorbikes towards different hospitals in Kulgam and Shopian.
The fierce exchange of fire lasted till evening when soldiers forces used explosives device to blow up the house were militants earlier fought from.
Two adjacent houses later went up in flames, the villagers alleged.
THE FIRST KILL
Earlier, in an encounter that broke out between government forces and militants in Diagam village near Anantnag town a Hizb militant was killed and another was captured alive.
The slain militant was identified as 19-year-old Rouf Ahmad Khanday of DehrunaHillad village of Kokernag.
Khanday, a first year BA student went missing in February this year and recently his picture brandishing a gun had gone viral.
During the gunfight, police bought the parents of Khanday to the encounter site and offered him to surrender.
“The patents pleaded to their son to surrender but he refused,” police sources said.
Later, heavy explosives were used to blow up the house and Khanday’s body retrieved from the debris.
Before killing Khanday, his associate, Imran Rashid of Bijbehara who had joined militancy only a few days back was captured.