The father of a 22-year-old youngster, who was named by the Jammu and Kashmir Police for his involvement in the Shopian fake encounter, contested the recently concluded Urban Local Bodies elections on a BJP ticket.
The election happened days before the Jammu & Kashmir Police filed a charge-sheet in the case, naming two Kashmiri men and an army officer.
The youngster, Tabish Nazir Malik, has been named by the J&K Police as a co-conspirator in the fake encounter case along with Bilal Lone, another local youth from Pulwama, and an Indian Army captain, Bhupinder alias Major Basheer Khan.
Tabish’s father, Nazir Ahmad Malik, contested the ULB elections from Kanipora ward of Shopian on a BJP ticket but lost to an independent candidate.
‘He Always Carried A Pistol With Him’
Tabish, who belongs to a lower middle class family of Chowgam village in Shopian, is in the crosshairs of the investigation into the ghastly murder of the three poor youngsters from Rajouri on 18 July.
Top sources said the name of Tabish has also previously figured in a police investigation into a liquor bootlegging case registered earlier this year by Shopian Police. However, police refused to elaborate the details of the case.
“People in the village feared him. There was a rumour that he always carried a pistol with him,” a young student from Chowgam village said of Tabish.
Both Tabish and Bilal have been arrested by the police and are presently languishing in Pulwama sub-jail.
The Special Investigations Team of J&K Police headed by SDPO Wajahat Hussain, which probed the case, filed a charge sheet in the court of the principal district and sessions judge, Shopian, on Saturday, accusing the three of murdering the youngsters for monetary benefits.
The army captain among three have been named in the 1,400-page charge sheet filed in the case. It states that the three youngsters were abducted from their rented accommodation on 17 July evening and taken to Amshipora where they were killed at a store house in an apple orchard in the wee hours of 18 July and passed off as foreign terrorists.
According to the charge sheet, the accused captain, Bhupinder, hatched a conspiracy to kill the three youngsters - Ibrar Ahmad, 17, a Class 12 student, his brother-in-law, Abrar Ahmad, 25, and another cousin, Imtiyaz Ahmad, 19.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the trio, seeking a livelihood, had trekked along the mountains from Rajouri to reach Shopian where they took up a rented accommodation near the house of Tabish. One of them, Imtiyaz, wanted to make enough savings to continue his education.
Conspiracy to Grab Prize Money
A senior police officer said Tabish and Bilal were involved in tipping the Army captain about the arrival of the three youngsters in Shopian’s Chowgam village. Tabish had worked as an informer with the army, police said.
“The three youngsters were abducted by an army unit under the supervision of the accused captain on 17 July and taken to a store house in Amshipora where they were killed,” the officer said, adding that Bhupinder wanted to grab the prize money sanctioned for militant kills.
The Quint was among the first to reach the site of the fake encounter. Mohammad Yusuf Bhat, the owner of the store house, said he felt suspicious after looking at the bodies of the victims since the “beard of one of the victims had not sprouted even.”
“I was firmly of the belief that the victims were innocents. The police charge-sheet has vindicated my stand,” he told The Quint.
The police charge-sheet mentions that the Army had hired a local cab on 17 July in which the three youngsters were taken to Amshipora after their abduction.
The statement of Aijaz Lone, the owner of the cab, has also been recorded and it is part of the charge-sheet which states that the weapons that were later planted on the youngsters were also brought in his car.
“The accused army official and two other civilians have committed offences under Sections 302 (murder), 364 (abduction), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence and giving false information), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house etc), 120(criminal conspiracy), 182( false information, with intent to cause public servant to use his lawful power to the injury of another person) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 7/25 of the Arms Act (possession of prohibited weapons),” the charge sheet notes.
Army Officer Protected Under Armed Forces Special Powers Act
However, the charge-sheet has not mentioned the involvement of any other army personnel in the staged killing. “The army captain had misled the entire unit, including his superiors, about the circumstances in which the gun battle took place,” the police officer said.
The J&K Police is now investigating how the accused army captain managed to procure a large cache of arms and ammunition which was planted on the bodies of the three youngsters before they were passed off as foreign terrorists.
“It is part of the investigation,” the officer quoted above said.
In a statement after the fake encounter, the army claimed to have recovered two pistols, two magazines, four empty pistol cartridges, 15 live cartridges and 15 empty cartridges along with other material from the three victims.
The accused captain who spearheaded the fake encounter has not been arrested so far because the Armed Forces Special Powers Act provides immunity to the army and paramilitary forces deployed in Kashmir from prosecution in civilian courts.
“A sanction is required from the central government before any proceeding can be initiated against the army officer,” the police officer said
(Jehangir Ali is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @gaamuk.)