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Srinagar: A shootout in Srinagar on Wednesday, November 24 evening, has come under a cloud with regional parties and eyewitnesses questioning the official version of events that led to the killing of three suspected militants, including a top commander of The Resistance Front (TRF).
Mehran Yasin Shalla, a C-category militant of TRF, was shot dead in Srinagar’s Rambagh area on Wednesday, November 25, along with his alleged associates – Manzoor Ahmad Mir, a former Hizb militant and Arafat Ahmad Sheikh, who was earlier with Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to officials.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said there were “legitimate doubts” about the circumstances in which the alleged militants were killed while the National Conference sought clarification from the officials about the “murky” shootout.
In a statement, the J&K police said it got “specific input regarding the movement of terrorists” in Srinagar following which a crack team was formed. On Wednesday evening, the crack team signalled a private car to stop in the Rambagh area.
“However, the terrorists started firing indiscriminately on the police party from inside the car while trying to flee from the spot under the cover of firing. The fire was however effectively retaliated leading to a gunfight,” said the police statement, adding that the three suspects were killed in “retaliatory” firing.
In 2014, the Supreme Court laid down 16 guidelines for police forces involved in encounters, which includes recording the tip-offs which lead to the encounter, providing medical aid to victims if they are injured in firing by police, ordering an internal investigation by an officer superior to the one who led the encounter team as well as a magisterial probe, among others.
“It is not the duty of the police officers to kill the accused merely because he is a dreadful criminal. Undoubtedly, the police have to arrest the accused and put them up for trial. This court has repeatedly admonished trigger-happy police personnel who liquidate criminals and project the incident as an encounter. Such killings must be deprecated… They amount to State-sponsored terrorism,” the apex court had ruled.
Eyewitnesses contest police claims
According to eyewitness accounts, the sequence of events during the Rambagh encounter suggests that the J&K Police may have allegedly violated these guidelines. Several eyewitnesses who spoke with media, including The Wire, soon after the firing ceased and security forces had left the spot, contested the claims of the police.
Some alleged that the suspects were pulled out of the car and killed while others said they were denied medical aid.
“Three boys were standing on the roadside when police arrived and started firing indiscriminately at them. I couldn’t understand what was happening,” said an inconsolable woman, rejecting claims that the suspects fired at policemen.
“The boys were hit by bullets but they were alive,” the woman said, who couldn’t be identified immediately. She continued, “One of them even tried to escape into an alley but he was brought back by policemen, shot and left on the road until he didn’t die.”
The road in uptown Srinagar, where the shootout took place, was splattered with blood which was washed by locals and policemen on Wednesday evening. Dozens of agitated men and women gathered at the site after the shootout, shouting anti-government, anti-police and pro-freedom slogans.
At the encounter site, an old, visibly anguished woman was in possession of a wallet which belonged to Manzoor, one of the three slain alleged militants. Holding the Aadhaar card of Manzoor in her shaking hands, she kept asking the reporters who he was and where he was from.
“Look at the blood. What’s his name? Tell me what’s his name? Oh my god. There is nothing in the poor boy’s wallet,” the woman screamed, cursing the policemen who were involved in the shootout.
“They were not carrying any arms. We were all watching,” said a group of women who were present at the spot. “The policemen fired so many shots at one of them that he peed in his pants. I thought I was hit by the bullets too. They killed our brother in front of my eyes. They don’t understand the value of human life.”
Dozens of videos from the scene of the shooting circulated on social media, showing anguished men and women protesting the “cold blooded murder” of the three suspects.
“What sins have we committed? My child is three years old. Am I raising him so that he is martyred in an encounter? How long will this nation continue to sleep? Why are we so helpless? Why doesn’t anyone listen to us?” screamed another woman, rejecting claims that the suspected militants fired at the policemen.
Come clean, police demanded
The killings also sparked protests in parts of downtown Srinagar, the native of Mehran, the slain TRF commander who was on the police radar in recent weeks after joining militants in May this year. Hundreds of men took out a procession last night in his native Jamalata area of downtown Srinagar while authorities responded by suspending internet in downtown areas.
The encounter in Rambagh took place barely days after three civilians and a suspected Pakistani militant were killed in the neighbouring Hyderpora locality, which is barely two kilometres away. The slain in the Hyderpora shootout were buried in north Kashmir after a massive public uproar over discrepancies in official versions. The bodies of two businessmen were returned to their families and a magisterial probe was ordered. The probe committee has not yet submitted its report.
“After yesterday’s alleged encounter at Rambagh legitimate doubts are looming over its authenticity. As per reports & witnesses it seems that the firing was one sided. Again the official version far from truth is not in line with ground realities as seen in Shopian, HMT & Hyderpora,” PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.
The National Conference (NC) also demanded the administration to come clean on the shootout, “This is a serious allegation at a time when we are yet to get a clarity from @JmuKmrPolice on Hyderpora ‘encounter’. We have another shootout in the city centre with all the ingredients of murkiness,” said NC spokesman Imran Nabi Dar.
Meanwhile, the police statement said the suspected militants were involved in “several terror crime cases including attacks on security forces and civilian atrocities.”
“Mehran Yaseen was involved in a grenade attack at Barbar Shah Srinagar on 26/06/2021 in which one civilian namely Mudasir Ahmad Bhat resident of Hanjigund Beerwah got killed and three other civilians got critically injured,” said the statement.
It also accused Mehran of involvement in the killing of Meeran Ali Sheikh, the self-proclaimed leader of the Srinagar-based Gujjar gang, in July this year. Police had initially termed the killing as a “terror crime” but retracted later calling it “gang rivalry.” Now, four months later, the killing has again been linked to militancy.
The police statement said Mehran was also behind the killings of police official Arshad Ahmad, in Srinagar in September and school principal Supinder Kour and teacher Deepak Chand of Government Higher Secondary School, at Eidgah last month.
“Prior to joining in terror ranks, several cases regarding his involvement in stone pelting incidents are also registered against him. Moreover, the other killed terrorist Arafat Ahmad was also involved in several terror crime cases including killing of a non-local labour at Litter area of Pulwama on 16/10/2021,” said the statement.