Three militants including an operational commander of Hizbul Mujahideen and two army soldiers were killed while five soldiers sustained injuries in an 18-hour-long gunfight between government forces and militants in Awneera village in Shopian district on Sunday, police and reports said. Three residential houses where the militants were holed up were also destroyed by the government forces, they said.
An official said the gunfight which broke around 5 pm on Saturday ended at 11 am on Sunday.
“As soon as the forces laid a siege around Awneera, militants present in the area resorted to indiscriminate firing. In the initial round of firing, two soldiers were killed and five others sustained injuries,” he said.
He said some militants escaped from the cordon but three were trapped. “As the gunfight was on, some militants appeared near the gunbattle site outside the cordon area and attacked the forces at two places,” the official said.
“There were more militants outside the cordon than those holed up. Militants after attacking the forces escaped from the area.” a police official said.
Forces arranged lighting system and the entire village was completely sealed with hundreds of forces personnel plugging its escape routes, a witness said.
“The firing continued throughout the night and intensified in the morning. The gunfight ended at about 11 am with the killing of three militants,” the official added.
The slain militants were identified as operational commander of Hizbul Mujahideen Yaseen Itoo @ Mehmood Gaznavi of Chadoora Budgam, Irfan Sheikh of Maldera Shopian and Umar Majeed Mir of Kathpora Yaripora Kulgam.
Sheikh had completed his B.Tech in food technology at Islamic University of Science and Technology Awantipora before joining militant ranks, locals said.
The slain army soldiers were identified as sepoy Ilayaraja P.Kandani Sivagangai of Tamil Nadu and sepoy Gawai Sumedh Waman of Lonagra Akola, Maharashtra.
Talking to Kashmir Post, senior superintendent of police Shopian AS Dinkar said, “We had inputs that there are militants present in the village and cordon was launched.”
“The militants who were in the village were killed and no one among them escaped from the cordon,” he claimed.
“It seems that there were more militants present outside the cordon than inside since they ambushed the forces twice during the gunfight,” the SSP said.
In a statement here, a police spokesman said, “Three HM militants were killed in Awneera.”
“Acting on a specific information, Shopian police along with 3 RR, 14 bn and 177 bn CRPF launched a CASO at Awneera. During the search operation, militants hiding in the area fired upon the joint search party. The fire was retaliated to, triggering an encounter.”
He said, “Five army personnel were injured during the encounter who were shifted to hospital for treatment. Among the injured, two army personnel succumbed to their injuries and died.”
The spokesman claimed that slain militants were involved in many militancy related activities. “Umer Majeed Mir was involved in grenade attack on security forces at Yaripora and many firing incidents including Yaripora and Kanjikullah. He was also involved in bank robbery case of PS Yaripora. Irfan-ul-Haq was involved in many cases including grenade attacks and firing on security personnel. He along with his associates was involved in the killing of shopkeeper of Heff and Advocate Imtiyaz Ahmad Khan of Pinjora. He was involved in attack on guards of MLA Shopian and MLC Showkat Ahmad. He was also involved in firing on Bn Hqrs IRP 18th Bn Reshipora and on Army party at Moolu Chitragam.”
“At the time of withdrawal of the CASO party from the encounter site, the militants fired indiscriminately upon army vehicles in which one person namely Muhammad Syed of Heff Shermal was injured. He was shifted to hospital for treatment,” the spokesman said, adding, “The media persons who had gone to cover the encounter got stuck when the militants fired upon the CASO party when it was de-inducting. The media persons were evacuated in bullet proof vehicles of police.”
Clashes, shutdown in Chadoora
As soon as news about killing of Hizbul Mujahideen operational commander Muhammad Yaseen Itoo spread in his native Chadoora township, shopkeepers downed their shutters and traffic went off the roads, a witness said. Soon, he said, people started moving towards Itoo’s residence at Nagam.
Clashes broke out in Chadoora as heavy deployment of forces was made there. “Youth pelted forces with stones who in turn resorted to sound and tear smoke shelling to disperse the protesters,” a witness said.
Meanwhile, thousands of people assembled at Itoo’s native village Nagam to participate in his last rites. His body reached Nagam late in the evening and it was decided that his funeral prayers would be offered on Monday morning. The authorities snapped internet services in Budgam district as “preventive measure.”
Meanwhile, two youth were killed while 30 others sustained injuries in clashes between government forces and protesters in Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam districts on Sunday.
A witness said as the word about gunfight between militants and government forces at Awneera Shopian spread on Saturday evening, hundreds of youth from different areas of Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama rushed to the gunfight site and pelted the forces with stones to help the trapped militants escape. The forces in return lobbed teargas shells, fired pellets and bullets, triggering further clashes. “The clashes soon spread to other nearby areas and continued till about 3 pm on Sunday,” said the witness.
A youth Muhammad Sayeed Bhat, 25, of Shirmal, who was hit by bullet near the gunfight site at Awneera was rushed to SMHS hospital in Srinagar. “He succumbed to his injuries at around 9.30 pm today. He had suffered bullet injuries in his abdomen,” Dr Nazir Ahmad Chaudhry, medical superintendent of the hospital told Kashmir Post.
Another youth Owais Ahmad Dar, son of Muhammad Shafi of Kakapora sustained multiple pellet injuries in right part of his chest when government forces fired pellets to disperse the protesters near Kakapora in Pulwama district on Sunday afternoon, witnesses said.
Owais was rushed to nearby hospital where from he was referred to SMHS hospital in Srinagar where doctors declared him as brought dead. The killing triggered protests in the area, with hundreds of people hitting the streets against it.
Clashes also erupted in Qaimoh Kulgam after youth hurled stones at government forces who retaliated with teargas shelling and bullet firing. One youth sustained bullet injuries in the clashes. The protesters also clashed with forces at Bona Bazaar Shopian. Two youth were hit by pellets and rushed to Srinagar hospitals, locals said.
Another youth who sustained bullet injuries was identified as Adil Malla, of Kulgam. He was hit by bullet during clashes at Qaimoh. “We received 15 injured with one of them having bullet injury and rest having pellet injuries,” medical officer at Zainapora hospital told this newspaper.
Meanwhile, five persons injured in clashes between protesters and forces in Shopian were admitted at SMHS hospital in Srinagar.
Of these, three youth Shahid Ahmad, Yawar Ahmad and Arshad Ahmad had received pellet injuries in one of their eyes while the other two persons had pellet injuries in their bodies. Shahid has pellet injury in left eye while Yawar and Arshad have pellet injuries in their right eyes. “They have perforation. We have given them preliminary treatment and will be monitoring their conditions,” said a doctor.