Srinagar, April 14: A 24-year-old youth's death in alleged army firing triggered violent protests today, prompting the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led government to detain top separatists and use force to quell the unrest.
Hundreds took to the streets for Khalid Muzaffar Wani as conflicting accounts emerged about his identity and the circumstances surrounding his death at Tral in Pulwama yesterday.
Separatists like Hurriyat hardliner Masarat Alam, the face of the 2010 agitation released by the Mufti government last month, and JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik were detained on way to Tral, 40km from Srinagar. Several protesters were injured in clashes with police.
The locals claimed Khalid, a civilian, was the brother of a top Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant, Burhan. They alleged that he was killed in a staged encounter. The army, however, said he was an overground militant worker who was luring youths into the insurgents' ranks.
A defence spokesperson said an army patrol was fired upon by militants yesterday, injuring a soldier.
"A firefight ensued. Once it subsided, a body along with two AK-47 rifles and warlike stores was recovered from the site. The body was identified to be of groundworker Khalid Wani, brother of Burhan, HM (Hizb-ul) commander.... Three youths were also arrested from the area," the defence spokesperson added. Tral is referred to as the Valley's "Kandahar" for being a hub of militancy.
The spokesperson also claimed that Khalid had tried to recruit the three arrested youths. "The incident has thus prevented the three youths from being misguided by Khalid Wani into joining militants' ranks."
The locals contested this version and alleged that Khalid was picked up by forces and killed in a fake encounter.
The Opposition National Conference called Khalid's death an "incident of shooting by security forces" that was condemnable and unacceptable. Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called a protest march to Tral on Friday.