Srinagar: A controversy erupted over the encounter held on Monday in Srinagar following conflicting claims about the two deceased civilians as their family members contested the police’s charge that they were “terror associates”, prompting demands by parties like the PDP and the NC for an impartial probe.
According to the police, a Pakistani terrorist and his local associate Mohammad Amir, along with two civilians – Altaf Bhat and Mudassir Gul – were killed in the encounter in Hyderpora locality, where an illegal call centre and a terror hideout were allegedly being run.
Inspector-General of Police (Kashmir range) Vijay Kumar maintained that Gul was an active associate of militants and was running the call centre on the premises owned by Altaf.
He said that Bhat was killed in cross-firing with the terrorists and though he expressed regret over the death, he said Bhat would be counted among the “harbourers” of militants.
“Let the post-mortem report come and we will come to know who fired the bullet that killed him,” Kumar told reporters here on Tuesday.
He said security forces tried their best to evacuate Bhat and Mudassir Gul as they could have got much information from the two about the network but could not save them “as the situation was bad”.
“He (Bhat) had kept the tenants and the police had no information about it. The responsibility of the owner does not end with renting out the place… He should also check once in a while as to what is happening there,” the IGP said.
However, Bhat’s niece, who was an eyewitness, disputed the claims made by authorities and alleged that he was used as a “human shield” by the security forces and later killed.
“You killed my innocent uncle Mohammad Altaf Bhat in cold-blooded murder In Hyderpora, you used him as human shield and now saying he was ‘OGW’ (overground worker), return us his body @JmuKmrPolice @SrinagarPolice @IGP,” tweeted Saima Bhat.
Gul’s family also claimed that he was innocent and requested the authorities to hand over his body to them for final rites.
Mohammad Amir’s father Latief Magray also refuted the Jammu and Kashmir police’s claim that his son was a militant and was with the Pakistani terrorist when he was killed in Hyderpora encounter.
“We are nationalists and I myself killed a militant with bare hands in 2005. My sister and I escaped death with multiple bullet injuries when terrorists attacked our house to take revenge and forced us to migrate to Udhampur district, he said and lamented, Is this the reward for the sacrifice of my family?” he said.
Magray, a resident of Gool tehsil in Ramban district, appealed to Lt Governor Manoj Sinha to provide justice to his family and also return the body of his son for proper burial.
The IGP said Gul, the person who had rented the premises, was an active associate of terrorists.
“Mudasir had brought the terrorists from Jamalatta, where one of our personnel suffered injuries in the neck during an encounter with terrorists, in his own car and dropped them at Hyderpora,” he said.
The IGP said Gul was operating the illegal call centre from the rented premises.
“We have recovered computers, mobile phones, maps of the USA and other material. A special investigation team has been formed to investigate further,” he said, adding the findings will be made public in due course.
Kumar said the bodies were buried in the early hours in Handwara area of Kupwara district to avoid any law and order problems in the city.
PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti demanded a judicial probe into the encounter.
“Using innocent civilians as human shields, getting them killed in cross firing & then conveniently labelling them as OGWs (Over Ground Workers) is part of GOIs (Government of India’s) rulebook now,” Mehbooba alleged on Twitter, responding to a video of Bhat’s kin shared by a user.
“Imperative that a credible judicial enquiry is done to bring out the truth & put an end to this rampant culture of impunity,” she added.
People’s Conference leader Sajad Lone also demanded a probe into the incident.
“In the midst of conflicting claims in the Hyderpora encounter, the least we deserve is a transparent description of what happened by a neutral institution. This is neither the first time nor the last time. Manoj Sinha- you have the opportunity to assert that human lives matter,” Lone said.
National Conference Vice President and former chief minister Omar Abdullah also took to Twitter saying “there have been numerous instances of fake encounters in the past and the questions raised about this #hyderporaencounter need to be answered swiftly and in a credible manner.
“An impartial and credible inquiry into the recent encounter in #Hyderpora is an absolute necessity. There are far too many questions being raised about the encounter and about the people killed,” he said.
Lok Sabha members Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi also called for an impartial and time-bound probe.