Abducted and Beheaded: Lashkar Redefines Terror in Kashmir’s Hajin

The beheaded body of 22-year-old Manzoor Bhat was found in an open orchard in Hajin.

Updated
India
5 min read
A relative showing a picture of Manzoor Bhat.
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Abdul Gaffar Bhat will forever live with the regret of sending a ‘death invitation’ to his son, who was abducted by unknown gunmen from their home in the Hajin area of north Kashmir last week.

In the first such killing in many years, the beheaded body of 22-year-old Manzoor Bhat was found in an open orchard, some two kilometres away from his family home, to send a strong message.

“He bought some sheep recently and was up in the mountains with them for four days. I called him to visit home but little did I realise that I was sending my son an invitation to his death,” a feeble looking Gaffar, who is employed by the local municipal committee, told The Quint at his home in Hajin.

Abdul Gaffar Bhat (right) at his residence in Hajin after his son’s killing. 
Abdul Gaffar Bhat (right) at his residence in Hajin after his son’s killing. 
(Photo: The Quint

On the intervening night of 4-5 April, police say three to five masked men appeared at Gaffar’s single-storied house. Gaffar confirms it was past midnight when he opened the door to find the masked militants facing him. They said they had come for Manzoor.

"They entered by force and took Manzoor away. I ran after them into the courtyard to save him, but they shot me in the abdomen. We searched for him all over Hajin on Thursday but couldn't find him," Gaffar said.

Manzoor’s headless body was found on Friday.

Bhat’s uncle pointing in the direction where Manzoor’s beheaded body was found on Friday.  
Bhat’s uncle pointing in the direction where Manzoor’s beheaded body was found on Friday.  
(Photo: The Quint)

Hajin – Home of the Ikhwan Militia – is Tense Again

The discovery of Manzoor’s headless body has stirred terror in the entire Hajin belt – a cluster of thinly populated villages and localities with a population of over 49,000 in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district bordered by Wular Lake, Asia’s largest freshwater lake, on one side.

Hajin was once a stronghold of Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon, a state-backed militia that was used to target separatist militants and their sympathisers in order to break the backbone of insurgency.

Operating outside the pale of the law, it was widely alleged that members of the Ikhwan also targeted innocent civilians. They were accused of extortion, abduction, rape and murder. Hajin gradually became an ‘outcast’ area during the years of militancy in Kashmir.

A popular story goes that the prospective brides and grooms from villages of Hajin and adjoining areas couldn’t find a suitable match elsewhere in Kashmir due to the ‘stain’ of Ikhwan.
Members of Ikhwan patrol near their camp at Aishmuqam 80 kms south of Srinagar, July 17, 2002.
Members of Ikhwan patrol near their camp at Aishmuqam 80 kms south of Srinagar, July 17, 2002.
(Photo: Reuters)

But the beheading of Manzoor has crossed the levels of barbarity displayed by members of Ikhwan during their time. The Lashkar seems to have taken a page out of the ISIS terror manual. The news and the details of the gory killing has sent shockwaves across the Valley.

According to security agencies, Hajin, some 50 kilometres from Srinagar, with its vast paddy fields and dense orchards, is an ideal place for militants to hide. The belt has seen a drastic increase in number of militants over the last two years.

Many locals claim, on condition of anonymity, that as the clout of Ikhwan has waned, anti-government militants now openly roam in the area.

“A group of militants from Lashkar-e-Taiba has made Hajin their base,” a senior police officer said. He added that among the old timers, only one local militant, Saleem Parray, is still active.

Locals say the turnaround happened after the 2016 civilian unrest post Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani’s killing.

“We were all with Ikhwan; those who say otherwise are lying. But times have changed, I can only say as much,” said an aged man who had come to console Gaffar.

Recuperating from the gunshot wound, Gaffar restricts his answers to brief sentences, taking long pauses to think before each time that he speaks, choosing his words carefully. While J&K Police has blamed a local militant, Saleem Parray, for the killing, Gaffar doesn’t buy that theory.

“I don’t know who the killers are. I didn’t see their faces in the dark. They can be from any group or organisation. But today it has happened with me, tomorrow it will be someone else,” Gaffar said after a careful thought, smoking from a hubble-bubble that got regular supply of tobacco and fresh water as we spoke.

Outside their house, two large tents have been erected, for male and female mourners. But only a few are turning up. And almost no men. They don’t want it known that they sympathise with Gaffar and run the risk of being targeted by the LeT terrorists.

Another Abduction, Another Civilian Killing in Hajin

Some two kilometres away, the four-year-old daughter of Naseer Parray is waiting for her parents to return home.

On 2 April, around 11 pm, a group of unknown gunmen abducted Naseer from his in-laws’ house in Ghat Mohalla. Three family members, including Naseer’s wife, suffered injuries in their vain attempts to foil the abduction.

Parray’s body was recovered at the town’s outskirts, the next day.

A picture of Naseer Ahmad along with his eldest daughter.  
A picture of Naseer Ahmad along with his eldest daughter.  
(Photo: The Quint)
Their eldest daughter is asking for them. We are keeping her occupied with toys and sweets but for how long? We haven’t disclosed anything to his wife yet. She is critical at a Srinagar hospital. Now we only hope she gets well soon.
Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, Naseer’s Father 

Naseer was an aspiring cricketer and along with his brother, Sameer Parray, a footballer, they won many medals and trophies which are carefully placed on a shelf above a small cupboard in the room where the mourners are received. Both the brothers have no jobs.

“His death was God’s will,” Manzoor’s cousin, Mushtaq Bhat said. “But the way we buried him, without the head, not seeing his face for the last time, has scarred us badly. No matter what people may say, I believe my cousin died a martyr’s death – a martyr without a gun.”

(The writer is a freelance journalist based out of Jammu and Kashmir. He can be reached at@Gaamuk.)

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