Srinagar: The clock had struck 5.30 Wednesday morning and masjids were reverberating with the call for pre-dawn prayers. Those who had left their homes, responding to the prayer call, saw the entire Fateh Kadal area in old Srinagar cordoned off, though a few locals had noticed the forces’ movement during midnight.
Two houses were zeroed in by the joint teams of police and Central Reserve Police Force and few attempts to trace the militants initially failed, according to officials. But, sure about the presence of militants in the house of a baker, the forces launched the “final assault.”
“There was intense firing on both sides for half an hour from 7 am. After that there was complete silence,” said Nazir Ahmed, a resident of Fateh Kadal, residing near the gunfight site.
Though no one mustered courage to venture out due to very thick presence of forces, the news of Lashkar commander Mehraj-ud-Din Bangroo’s death in the gunfight spread with the first light.
As the area witnessed loud shrieks and wails of women amid thick smoke emanating from the house of Habibullah Sofi—who runs a bakery shop near the shrine of Syed Ali Akbar (RA)— people gradually started assembling there while youth began protesting amid pro-freedom sloganeering.
“There was chaos all around as forces were seen firing tear-gas shells at the protesters,” said Imtiyaz Ahmed, another local resident.
A group of youth tried to break a layer of cordon to reach one of the two houses that was up in flames. However, they were pushed back.
“We wanted to see the face of our friend and neighbour (Mehrajudin Bangroo) one last time,” the youth said. “It has been a long time since we saw him last. But we were not allowed to proceed towards the encounter site.”
Beating their chests, scores of wailing women seemed baffled as some of them were seen rushing towards the houses where the gunfight had taken place, while many others were heading towards Bangroo’s house, located barely a few hundred meters away from the encounter site.
“Saane shaheedo, saane shaheedo (Oh! our martyr, Oh! our martyr),” the wailing women recited on the way.
Many residents managed to reach the gunfight site to help douse the flames.
“They (forces) used gunpowder to torch two houses. See what they did,” said a relative of a house owner whose dwelling was completely damaged. Another house also suffered partial damage.
The police, however, didn’t lift the cordon and instead issued an advisory asking people not to go closer to the gunfight site as littered explosives may endanger their lives. The police said the houses where the encounter took place were being “sanitised.”
LONG WAIT FOR BANGROO’S BODY
Though the police delayed confirming the identity of slain militants and the son of the house owner, hundreds of youth assembled at Fateh kadal and resorted to massive clashes with the forces who were either part of the cordon or deployed to deal with possible protests. At Fateh Kadal, young boys and children were raising slogans “Bangroo hum sharminda hai, teray kaatil zinda hai (Bangroo we are ashamed, your killers are alive).”
Major roads leading to Bangroo’s house were dotted with bricks, stones, wooden logs as youth engaged forces amid pro-Burhan Wani sloganeering.
The angry youth were desperately waiting for the body of Bangroo to arrive, even as women and children were seen standing in lanes and by-lanes of Fateh Kadal, Khanaqah-e-Moula, Karfali Mohalla and other adjacent areas, readying to march towards the slain militant’s residence.
While the encounter ended at 7:30 am, the police didn’t hand over the body of Bangroo and another militant Faid Mushtaq Waza, to their families till 4.30 pm. However, later, all the three bodies—including that of the house owner’s son Rayees Ahmad—were handed over to them for the last rites.