18-HOUR MUJGUND ENCOUNTER: LeT commander, 2 teenage militants killed

5 houses damaged as forces use ‘mortar shells’ | Massive clashes at encounter site | 3 civilians hit by bullets | ‘Ali Bhai’ gave tough fight, say security officials | LeT pays tribute

ABID BASHIR
Srinagar, Publish Date: Dec 10 2018 12:02AM | Updated Date: Dec 10 2018 12:02AM
18-HOUR MUJGUND ENCOUNTER: LeT commander, 2 teenage militants killedPhoto: Aman Farooq/ GK

A Lashkar-e-Toiba commander and two teenage militants of the outfit were killed in a fierce gun-battle in Mujgund area on the outskirts of Srinagar on Sunday, even as three civilians sustained bullet injuries in massive clashes that rocked the encounter site. At least five residential houses were also damaged in the gunfight that lasted for 18 hours.

THE GUNFIGHT 

Acting on a “specific input” about presence of militants in a residential house at GhatMohalla village in Mujgund area, the joint teams of special operations group of Jammu and Kashmir police, army’s 5 Rashtriya Rifles and Central Reserve Police Force launched searches in the area at around 6 pm on Saturday.

“After zeroing in on a suspected house, forces fired some warning shots after which the militants resorted to indiscriminate firing. The forces returned the fire, triggering a fierce gun-battle,” a police officer, who was overseeing the anti-militancy operation, told Greater Kashmir. 

“By midnight, we were able to kill two local militants but the third one continued to fire at us,” he said.

He said the forces installed high-beam lights and strengthened what is called “outer and middle-layer cordon’ in police parlance to “ensure the last militant doesn’t flee”. 

“There was a law and order situation throughout the night as youth continued to engage forces in pitched battles,” he said. 

The officer said the firing stopped at 10pm and then there was lull. 

“We decided not to retrieve the bodies because we had a credible input about presence of three militants in the area. Knowing that two of them have been killed, we decided to wait for the first light of Sunday,” he said.

The third militant, a Pakistani, opened indiscriminate firing at the forces, the officer said.

“From 2am to 5am, there was a lull again and these three hours were used by the last militant to sleep,” the officer said, adding: “From 5 am onwards, he resorted to indiscriminate firing at forces which was retaliated. He kept on changing locations by moving from one house to another. He fought us and was a well trained militant”.

The forces launched “assault” with the first light of the day but due to dense fog, the operation couldn’t be finished early, he said.

“As the fog cover thinned, the final assault was launched at around 9.30 am which resulted in the killing of the third militant,” the officer said. 

He said three civilians also sustained bullet injuries “in exchange of firing between forces and militants”.

A soldier and two policemen sustained injuries in the encounter but all of them are stable, a police official said.

Kashmir range inspector general of police Swayam Prakash Pani confirmed the killing of three militants in the overnight gunfight. 

‘FORCES FIRED MORTAR SHELLS’

Residents of Mujgund alleged that forces used mortar shells and fired thousands of bullets towards houses where the militants were holed up and “with the result, five residential houses caught fire and got fully damaged”. 

A police officer, however, claimed that “these were hut-type small structures with wooden material that easily caught fire”. 

“Forces fired mortars even at houses in which there were no militants,” Ali Muhammad, a resident of GhatMohalla, alleged.  

Meanwhile, the police have asked the people not to “enter into the encounter site till its proper sanitisation”.    

SLAIN MILITANTS IDENTIFIED 

A police spokesman said that two slain militants were identified as Mudasir Rashid Parray and Saqib Bilal Sheikh—both from Hajin area of Bandipora district—while the third militant was identified as Ali Bhai, a Pakistani national. All the three belonged to Lashkar-e-Toiba, the spokesman said, adding: “The slain militants were wanted by law for their complicity in crimes”.

“Ali, according to police records, was involved in several militancy crimes and cases including attacks on forces. He was also involved in recruitment of local youth in Sumbal areas of Bandipora,” the police spokesman said in a statement.

A police official said that Ali was a Lashkar commander wanted in many cases. “He was A++ category militant and responsible for luring both Mudasir and Saqib into Lashkar fold,” the official said

He, however, refused to comment on the age of two slain local militants. However, sources close to Mudasir’s family told Greater Kashmir that he was studying in class 9 and was aged 14, while Saqib was a class 11 student and was aged 17. 

Both of them had joined militant ranks on August 31 after the killing of two militants in a gunfight in the area. 

A photograph showing Muddasir holding a gun and a knife in his hands had gone viral on social networking sites recently. 

MASSIVE CLASHES 

While nocturnal clashes continued around Ghat area of Mujgund, hundreds of youth from HMT, Narbal and Mujgund marched towards the encounter site on Sunday morning. However, the forces personnel deployed in strength, used scores of tear-gas shells and pellets to disperse the protestors. 

“The protestors refused to budge and instead hurled rocks and bricks at the forces amid pro-freedom slogans. In the forces’ action, several protestors sustained injuries,” said Basit Rashid, a resident of Mujgund. 

He said that forces fired dozens of tear-gas shells and pellets at the protestors after a large group of youth tried to march towards the encounter site. 

Clashes were on in the area even after the encounter ended, a witness said.

LET PAYS TRIBUTE 

Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Mehmood Shah paid tribute to its militants killed in a gunfight with forces in Mujgund area on the outskirts of Srinagar Sunday. Quoting Shah, a spokesman of LeTDr Abdullah Ghaznavi said in a statement issued to news agency GNS: “The whole world is seeing the cowardice of forces. Setting people’s houses on fire and blasting them after picking fallen soldiers are no traits of professional armed forces.”

“Martyrdoms never belittle the jihad but intensify it. Hundreds of youth are ready to pick up the fallen gun of Mudassir (sic). The worries of India will only worsen,” Shah said, according to the statement.

“Shah expressed grief over loss of properties and damage to homes by forces and said the freedom-fighters stand united with people in this moment of grief,” the statement read. “India will soon compensate the tragic loss of properties of Kashmiris. People are our true asset.”

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