Two Hizbul Mujahideen militants were killed in a brief shootout with government forces in Kulgam district late Wednesday night, police said.
A police official said a party of army's 9 Rashtriya Rifles, special operations group of J&K police and 18 battalion CRPF jointly laid ambush in Gopalpora village near Damhal Hanjipora after inputs about movement of militants in the area last night.
As soon the militants were spotted, the forces challenged them, he said.
"Militants opened fire and tried to break the cordon. The fire was retaliated to, triggering a brief gunfight in which two militants were killed," he said.
The slain militants were identified as Aaqib Hamid Itoo, 16, of Gopalpora village, and Suhail Arif, also 16, of Tantraypora–Yaripora. Both were affiliated with Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
"Aaqib was involved in attack on a cash van of J&K Bank at Pombai in which five policemen were killed and two civilians (bank guards) lost their lives," a police official claimed. "He was also involved in many cases, including bank robbery at J&K bank Kader, and weapon-snatching from Adijan minority guard picket."
He alleged that Suhail was involved in instigating people and firing indiscriminately upon government forces personnel "from a mob."
The official said a number of FIRs were already lodged against these militants in different police stations.
Sources said that Aaqib was on way to visit his family in Gopalpora and was accompanied by Suhail when they were ambushed. "They were walking though paddy fields and orchards. They were trying to cross a road when the forces confronted them," they said.
Earlier in the evening, a cordon and search operation (CASO) was launched in nearby Adoora-Nelaw village but was called off after nothing was found there.
Meanwhile, bodies of slain militants were handed over to their families on Thursday morning. Thousands of people turned up to participate in the funeral processions of the two militants at Gopalpora and Yaripora amid pro-freedom sloganeering. The bodies of militants were draped in a green flag.
Four gun-wielding militants believed to be affiliated with Hizb made a sudden appearance at the funeral of Suhail at Yaripora and offered three-volley gun salute as mark of respect to their fallen colleague, a witness said.
Aaqib had joined Hizb ranks in September last year soon after the death of Hizb commander Burhan Wani while Suhail joined the outfit in March this year only. Both were high school students before joining militant ranks.
"He (Suhail) was repeatedly subjected to harassment by army that accused him of being an over ground worker (OGW) of militants," said a local, wishing anonymity.
He said that fed up with the everyday harassment, he left home to join active militant ranks.
A complete shutdown was observed in entire Kulgam district including tehsils of Kulgam, Qaimoh, Yaripora, DH Pora and Devsar to mourn the killing of militants. Shops remained closed while traffic was completely off the roads. Shutdown was also observed in Anantnag and Bijbehara towns.
Meanwhile, mobile internet services in Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian continued to remain suspended.
Yesterday's gunfight in Kulgam village was third this week. Six militants including Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) divisional commander Abu Dujana were killed in three different encounters in Pulwama and Kulgam districts while two civilians have also lost their lives in action by government forces.
HIZB PAYS TRIBUTES
Hizbul Mujhadeen Thursday paid glorious tributes to Suhail Ahmed and Aqib Ahmed.
Hizb-ul-Mujhadeen chief Syed Salahuddin while addressing a meeting said that these militants were not only an asset to Hizb but to whole Kashmir nation. "We can't forget their sacrifices. Though their separation from us is a big loss but they have played their role and 'Inshallah' their sacrifices will lead this oppressed nation towards destination," local news agency CNS quoted Salahuddin as having said.
"The soil of Kashmir is painted with the sacred blood of these brave young Kashmiri militants. Their sacrifices will not go waste," he said.