Two Lashkar-e-Toiba militants died in a 20-hour gunfight in Ratnipora village of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Tuesday, triggering massive protests and clashes in the area in which several people sustained injuries, police and locals said.
The gunfight had started at 8 pm yesterday when militants attacked sumo vehicles, carrying army soldiers, between Nadoo and Bongaam Lajoora villages.
After an hour-long gunfight last night, a police official said, the militants took advantage of darkness and took shelter in paddy fields in the area overnight.
The forces including army’s 55 RR soldiers, Special Operations Group of J&K Police and some CRPF battalions cordoned off Ratnipora and its adjoining areas to stop militants from escaping, the police official said. The areas sealed included Lajoora, Nadoo, Bongaam, Trich and Ratnipora.
“The militants fled towards paddy fields near Ratnipora last night but could not escape as there was heavy deployment of forces in the area,” the police official said.
He said exchange of firing, which was on during the night, intensified in on Tuesday morning.
“Due to the standing maize crop in the fields, the militants could not be located, but the exchange of fire was on during the day (Tuesday),” he said.
The forces, according to locals, lobbed dozens of grenades and set ablaze standing crop in the area in a bid to catch hold of the militants.
In the meantime, locals said, scores of local youth broke the cordon and held massive anti-India and pro-freedom demonstrations. The protests intensified in the afternoon, with forces resorting to heavy teargas shelling and aerial firing to break the demonstrations. Several people were reportedly injured in the clashes.
At about 12.30 pm, a cop of SOG was injured in the gun-battle and soon a militant was also killed, the police official said.
As the gunfight continued, sources said, the forces called in para-commandos and another militant was killed at 3.13 pm, marking the end of the encounter after 20 hours.
A lower-rung police official, who was part of the encounter, said the militants were hiding in a ‘drain’ covered by grass which made it difficult for the forces to locate them instantly.
The militants were later identified by police as Showkat Ahmad Lone son of Ghulam Muhammad of Lelhara and Shaheen Gulzar of Talangama Pulwama.
The bodies of the slain militants were taken to police station Kakapora for formalities and later handed over to locals at 5:45 pm.
Police said both militants belonged to Lashkar-e-Toiba outfit and “were involved in a number of activities.”
Thousands of people attended the funeral of the two militants amid massive anti-India and pro-freedom sloganeering.
Earlier, as the bodies of militants reached their native villages—Telangama and Lelhara—thousands of people hit the streets and held massive protests.
The militants were later laid to rest in a local graveyard.
Talking to us, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir), Javid Mujtaba Geelani said: “We killed two militants including a top militant in today’s encounter.”
He said: “This is a big success for security forces.”
“The army used special forces during today’s encounter,” he said.
“Showkat Ahmad Lone alias Ali was a categorized militant and was active since 2013. He was involved in many incidents of militancy in which civilians and security personnel were killed. He was involved in Pahoo grenade attack in which one CRPF man was killed and others including a CRPF Inspector, two civilians and a policeman were injured. He was also responsible for attack on sumo stand at Kakapora where many civilians were injured. He was also involved in Galander attack in which two police personnel and a civilian were killed. He was also involved in Puchal incident in which one Head Constable of Railways was killed,” a police spokesman claimed. “The militant was involved in creating fear psychosis among Panchs/ Sarpanchs in Pulwama.”
The spokesman also claimed that Gulzar Ahmad Bhat alias Shaheen was also a categorized militant and was active since 2014. “The slain militant always tried to create insecurity among people and disturb peaceful atmosphere. He was involved in motivating the youth to join militancy in the recent past. He was involved in weapon snatching incident at Government Hospital in Pulwama. He played an important role in strengthening the over ground network of LeT outfit in the area.”
“He was a close associate of Divisional Commander of LeT outfit namely Qasim. A number of FIRs stand registered in various Police Stations against him,” the spokesman said.
Crops in Ratnipora suffered massive damage during the gunfight, locals said.
“We fear there might be unexploded shells and devices including grenades in the paddy fields,” they said.