We’re Orphaned: Kin Allege Fake Encounter of 3 in J&K’s Lawaypora

The three militants were killed in an encounter in the Lawaypora area in Srinagar outskirts on Wednesday.

4 min read
Army personnel conduct searches in the house where militants were hiding, after an encounter with them, at Lawaypora on the outskirts of Srinagar, on Wednesday, 30 December 2020. Three militants were killed in the encounter.

Aijaz Maqbool Ganie, 19, had his morning tea with his family at their residence in south Kashmir’s Pulwama on Tuesday, 29 December, before he left for Srinagar.

A recent graduate of Government Degree College Pulwama and son of a J&K Police official, Aijaz told his family he was going to submit an admission form at the University of Kashmir, his grandfather Bashir Ahmad Ganie told The Quint.

Aijaz is one of the three suspected militants gunned down in an encounter in Lawaypora on the outskirts of Srinagar, on the intervening night of 29 December and 30 December.

The other two have been identified as Zubair Ahmad, 22, a mason from Turkawangam of Shopian, and another recent graduate, Athar Mushtaq, from Pulwama's Putrigam village.

But their families are alleging that the three youngsters were abducted by security forces and killed in cold blood. The families claim that all of them were leading normal lives till the news of their encounter came in.

“We don’t know what happened to him. He was a student. Why was he killed? Was he a terrorist? What was his guilt? They have killed him. They should kill me too. His murder has orphaned us all,” octogenarian Bashir said, breaking down in tears outside the Police Control Room (PCR) in Srinagar.

Bashir was among a dozen relatives, including women and elderly, who arrived in Srinagar on the morning of 30 December, soon after the security forces claimed to have gunned down the three militants.

“He had come to find a hostel for himself. He was not a militant," another relative of Aijaz said.

‘Not on Militant List’

The J&K police said in a statement on Wednesday evening that the three suspects hurled a grenade at a joint team of counterinsurgency forces, closing in on their suspected hideout in Lawaypora, on Tuesday at around 5:30 pm. They also “fired indiscriminately on troops.”

“Repeated announcements were made to the hiding terrorists to lay down their illegal weapons and surrender, instead the hiding terrorists fired continuously upon the searching party. The operation ended over at 11:30 hrs in which all the three hiding terrorists were killed. Upon their search, arms (one AK 47 rifle & two pistols) & ammunition and other incriminating material along with some documents were recovered,” the statement said.

Curiously, the police said the three suspects were not in their list of militants but “two of them are hardcore associates of terrorists (OGWs). Pertinently, one of the two (Aijaz) is relative of top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Rayees Kachroo, who was killed in 2017. Reportedly, third (Zubair) might have joined very recently.”

General Officer Commanding (GoC) Kilo Force HS Sahi said there were intelligence inputs about the movement of militants in Srinagar. He said five militants, including a Pakistani national, were killed in two separate gunfights in north Kashmir in the past week.

“The three terrorists (killed in Lawaypora) were planning a big strike on the highway to attract limelight. Yesterday, we got some intel which led us to a house on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway in which they were hiding,” he said.

Calls for Probe

However, former J&K chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti asked the authorities to “come clean” on the Lawaypora encounter.

“Worrying that in the past few months after the Shopian fake encounter, other families too in J&K have alleged that their sons were innocent and killed in a staged encounter. Authorities need to come clean on this,” Mehbooba said on Twitter, while posting a video of the Srinagar protest by the families of the slain.

The encounter comes barely days after the J&K Police charged an Indian Army captain and his two local informers for killing three youngsters from Rajouri in a staged encounter in Amshipora village of Shopian in July this year, to grab the prize money.

The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference also sought a time-bound inquiry into the circumstances in which the three suspects were killed in the encounter.

“The situation necessitates the constitution of a fact-finding team that could reveal the circumstances that will probe the matter on a fast-track basis,” NC’s additional spokesperson Sarah Shah said, as quoted in the party statement.

“The police version is that the trio was militants who refused to surrender during the gunfight and were killed, but the version of families of the slain is contradictory to that of the police version. It is for the government now to clear the ambiguity leading to the death of the three persons,” she said.

'Families Refused Bodies'

Shouting slogans against the security forces outside the PCR in Srinagar, the families of the slain trio asked the authorities to return their bodies so that they could carry out their last rites.

“Why have you extinguished our candle? We have no other in our home. Oh God, what will we do. Oh God, who will we seek justice from,” said another elderly man who was being consoled by relatives outside the PCR.

However, the bodies of the three were not handed to their families. Instead, they were taken to Sonamarg for burial. “A small group of relatives was allowed to participate in their funeral prayers,” a senior police officer said.

Zubair’s two brothers work in J&K Police. In recent past, one of them, Mohammad Altaf, would supervise the burial of militants killed in encounters at the graveyard in Sonamarg. Yesterday, he had to accompany his own brother’s body to the graveyard.

“He left home on Tuesday at 1:30 pm after lunch. We thought he was staying at his grandparents’ place till we got the news of his killing,” Altaf told a local daily.

The police officer said the overground workers of militants often keep a low profile and live normally with their families.

“Their parents are often unaware about their terror activities. We are probing this (Lawaypora encounter) case on merits, and we will share the details once the investigation is complete,” the officer added.

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