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Firing after mob stones ambulance

Srinagar, Dec. 28: Security forces allegedly opened fire after a mob protesting the death of two Lashkar militants in an encounter today stoned an ambulance ferrying an army major and a captain injured in the gun battle to hospital.

Seven civilians were injured in the “retaliatory action” in Pulwama, around 32km from Srinagar, although an army officer denied the mob had been fired upon. A curfew was imposed after recurring clashes between the stone-throwing protestors and the forces.

Police claimed the two slain militants were involved in a grenade attack on a tourist bus that had killed four women from Mumbai in July this year, staging a flip-flop on an incident they had initially attributed to a gas cylinder explosion in the vehicle.

A police spokesperson said a joint operation was launched by the army’s 55 Rashtriya Rifles, police and the CRPF after a tip-off about militants early this morning.

“The militants fired on the search party, triggering an encounter in which two of the insurgents were killed,” the spokesperson said, adding that the gun battle lasted “several hours”.

The killings triggered massive protests as both the slain militants, identified as Imtiyaz Ahmed Teli and Mohammad Aamir Bhat, were from Pulwama.

Some of the demonstrators hurled stones as the major, the captain and a policeman, injured in the gunfight, were being evacuated from the encounter site in Asthan Mohalla, the police spokesperson said. “In the retaliatory action, seven persons suffered injuries. The condition of all the injured is stable,” the spokesperson added.

Vijay Kumar, deputy inspector-general of police (south Kashmir), blamed militants Teli and Bhat for the July 28 blast in the tourist bus in Bijbehara, on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, in which the four women visitors died and several others were wounded. “Teli was also involved in a grenade attack in November in Narwal in which one person died and five others were injured,” said Kumar.

Police had then played down the bus attack to avoid scaring off visitors — tourism is Kashmir’s mainstay — and blamed a gas cylinder. However, the injured tourists had denied carrying any cylinder.