Srinagar: Militants opened fire in the city’s busy SMHS hospital killing two policemen and freeing Pakistani Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militant, Naveed Jutt alias Abu Hanzullah, from police custody on Tuesday.
The dramatic shootout has thrown a fresh challenge for government forces as the militant, earlier the right-hand man of slain Lashkar commander, Abu Qasim, was involved in many deadly attacks including the fidayeen attack on army men in Hyderpora in the year 2013.
An eyewitness said that armed persons opened fire inside the hospital passage that connects the casualty ward with the outdoor patient department (OPD) when Hanzullah was being taken for a medical check-up.
“From a distance, we spotted a man wearing pheran (Kashmiri gown) who opened fire on the policemen who were guarding the militant,” an eyewitness said. “When the policemen fell, the huge number of visitors panicked and it created chaos. The pheran-clad man opened more fire in the air. Later he pushed away the person in handcuffs and took him along with him. The prisoner stumbled at many places due to the weight of the iron cuffs.”
Eyewitnesses said that due to the commotion, nobody knew what happened later as people rushed towards safer zones.
Police said that policemen escorting the Pakistani prisoner were fired upon by unknown militants, resulting in injuries to two police personnel who later succumbed to their injuries.
“Meanwhile the prisoner managed to escape. A manhunt has been launched to nab the terrorists,” the police said.
The police identified the slain cops as Head-Constable Mushtaq Ahmad, resident of Dildar Karnah, and Cconstable Babar Ahmad Khan, resident of Shangus Achabal.
“It’s a very unfortunate incident. The militants managed to free one of their hardcore accomplices. We have sounded a red alert to nab all those involved in this crime,” said Director General of Police SP Vaid.
Deputy Inspector General, Central Kashmir, Ghulam Hassan Bhat said that a police team was taking six prisoners including Abu Hanzullah for medical check-up to SMHS when they were fired upon.
Police sources told Kashmir Reader that they believe more militants were waiting outside the hospital and they whisked Hanzullah away.
Soon after the incident, police started frisking of vehicles at major roads and intersections, but without any success as the day passed.
According to the senior police officers, the fleeing of Abu Hanzullah will strengthen the Lashkar, which is facing a crisis of sorts in Kashmir, especially in the south.
Hanzullah, 22, was arrested by police in the year 2014, in south Kashmir’s Kulgam area.
“He is a daring militant,” a police officer said. “He has a strategic brain and does not hesitate from taking action on the ground. He is a practical man who knows how to execute things.”
The official said that slain Lashkar commander Abu Qasim used to execute daring acts in south Kashmir only due to Hanzullah. “If Qasim is known, it is because of him (Hanzullah),” the official said. “He executed Qasim’s plans. He was involved in several attacks in Kashmir. He was part of the suicide attack on army in Hyderpora which led to the killing of several army men. He managed to flee there as well.”
Lashkar commander Abu Qasim was based in south Kashmir and was involved in several attacks on government forces including the killing of top counter-insurgent Sub Inspector Altaf Ahmad. He was later killed in an encounter with government forces in 2015.
”Hanzullah was the power behind Qasim,” a police officer said. “He was also involved in the killing of a police officer in Pulwama, another policeman in Anantnag, and other attacks like the one at Silver Star Hotel and another on the BSF on the highway.”
“So, he has the capability to become a potent commander for Lashkar, which is grappling with a leadership crisis. I think he will give real headaches, given his motivation, military brain and tactics,” the officer said.
The police officer also said that Hanzullah had a good know-how of information technology and could handle equipment like compasses, GPS, wireless sets and mobile phones installed with Skype software.
Dujana came along with four other militants, while Hanzullah crossed into Kashmir in a separate group with six militants, the police officer said. “Only Hanzullah survived among them.”