| Ishtaq’s mother mourns. (Reuters)
Srinagar, Aug. 29: The faces are sombre, men in skull caps sit in front of dilapidated wooden houses leaning towards each other and blotting out the light in the narrow lane. They are talking in low voices, stunned that the earnest young man who grew up in the fifth house down the lane was the terrorist responsible for Wednesday’s Lal Chowk attack.
The people have gathered with the family to claim his body from the police. Ishtaq Ahmad, 23, whose charred remains were dragged out of Greenway hotel by security forces, was only the second Kashmiri boy to give up his life for azadi. Afaq, 19, who drove a car laden with explosives into the Badamibagh cantonment two years ago, was the first.
Ishtaq, who lived in Chattabal in the old city, was always polite and a great help to his mother. He was a regular student of Kite Polytechnic, where he was doing a course in computers.
“He never talked about the political situation, about azadi or the problems faced by the common man because of constant security checks and road blocks,’’ his brother Shakeel Ahmad says. “He was never interested in all this nonsense…. We refuse to accept he was mixed up with the militants.’’
His mother and female relatives are crying in the next room. “Our father cannot accept the police version. Ishtaq was a good simple kind of person.’
The body was charred beyond recognition. Police say the family identified him by a slight gap in his front tooth. “Even if it was him, he was not the militant who led the attack. He could have been trapped in the hotel, which had many offices,’’ Shakeel says.
The father, a tall gaunt man, is a driver of a commercial vehicle for a private company. He insists there has been a terrible mistake. “My son can never be a militant. He was a good boy.’’ The family decided to bury the body in keeping with religious rules.
The neighbours say Ishtaq had asked his family to repay Rs 50 he had borrowed from a friend. It appears that since Sunday he had refused to eat. Around 9 am on Wednesday, he left the house. He did not return at night and the family got worried. They heard about the Lal Chowk attack only when they switched on TV that night.
On Thursday, Shakeel reported to the police his brother was missing. In the afternoon, a neighbour said the bodies of those killed in the attack were in Kotibagh police station. Shakeel rushed there and found Ishtaq.