Lawaypora incident: Police defend encounter stand

Stating that they are probing all angles, police on Friday said that the three slain youth who have been declared militants by security forces were present at the gunfight site and two of them were Over Ground Workers (OGWs) of militants.

The police statement came amid charges from the families of three slain youths killed at Lawaypora here that they were not militants but innocent civilians.

Three youths from Pulwama and Shopian were killed in Srinagar in the early hours of Wednesday in an “encounter”, with the Army and police claiming that they were militants planning a big strike along the Srinagar-Baramulla highway.

As soon as the photos of the youths started circulating, the families reached the Police Control Room (PCR) in Srinagar, accusing the security forces of killing innocent men. The families of the slain youth have demanded the return of the bodies of their wards for proper burial at their native places and an impartial inquiry into the killings to ascertain the facts.

A police spokesman said the encounter started with Army inputs and eventually fructified into a joint operation of the Army, CRPF and Police.

“After the cordon was laid, militants lobbed grenades from inside and fired upon the search party. As per the SOP, troops repeatedly appealed to the militants to surrender in the evening and again in the morning. However, instead of surrendering, they fired upon the troops and were eventually neutralized in a fire-fight,” he said.

According to the Army and police, Zubair Ahmad Lone of Turkawangam in Shopian, Aijaz Maqbool Ganai (undergraduate student) and Athar Mushtaq (Class 11 student), both hailing from Pulwama, were killed in a gunfight.

“As far as the claims of parents that Aijaz went to the university to fill up the form is concerned, this was verified and cross-checked through modern techniques including records of the telecom department. Contrary to the claims, the verified digital evidence revealed and corroborated that Aijaz and Ather had gone to Hyderpora and from there to the place of occurrence only,” the police spokesman said.

He said another slain youth Zubair had gone first to Pulwama, then Anantnag, then Shopian and finally came to the place of the encounter.

“Background checks also reveal that Aijaz and Ather were both OGWs who provided logistics support to militants. Antecedents and verification too show that both were radically inclined and had aided militants of LeT (now so-called TRF),” the spokesman said.

He further said one of the OGWs presently in police custody has also corroborated Aijaz’s association with LeT militant Faisal Mushtaq Baba, who was killed in the Meej (Pampore) encounter in June last year.

“Ather was a relative and OGW of HM top commander Rayees Kachroo who was killed in 2017,” the spokesman said. “Nevertheless, the police is investigating the case from all possible angles,” he added.