Two Lashkar militants, a policeman and a civilian were killed in an encounter in Srinagar on Wednesday, the gun battle taking place hours after municipal elections ended in Jammu and Kashmir.
The killings triggered clashes between protesters and security forces at several places in the city and led to a spontaneous shutdown. The authorities closed schools and colleges to prevent more protests.
The security forces roughed up journalists covering the incident, which triggered an outrage in the media fraternity in the Valley.
The two slain militants were Lashkar commander Mehraj-ud-din Bangroo, who had been involved in a series of militant attacks in Srinagar, and his associate Faid Waza.
Police claimed a third person who died in the gunfight, Rayees Ahmad, was an overground worker of militants, but his family and residents said he was a civilian and was killed in cold blood.
The family said Rayees, son of the owner of the house where the militants were allegedly hiding, was a baker and is survived by an infant daughter.
State police chief Dilbagh Singh said cops and CRPF personnel had cordoned off a locality in Fateh Kadal area of the old city on Tuesday night following information about the presence of militants in a house.
“As we closed in on the house, the party came under fire during which a brave cop, Kamal Kishore, achieved martyrdom,” Singh told reporters.
The director-general of police said three bodies had been recovered from the house where the militants were hiding.
“Bangroo had been involved in several killings and weapon-snatching incidents. He was a grave danger to Srinagar city... and neutralising him will improve the security situation there,” he said.
A police spokesperson said they were probing whether Rayees had a role in providing shelter and logistics to the militants.
“Incriminating materials, including arms and ammunitions, were seized from the site of the encounter. The police have registered a case and an investigation has been initiated,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Rayees’s mother Shakeela Begum, however, said her son was dragged out of the house during the midnight raid and killed in cold blood.
“They (the security forces) first took him upstairs, asking him to locate the militants. He was severely beaten up before they dragged him out. I begged before them to release him but they did not listen. In the morning we were told he was a militant and was killed in an encounter,” she said.
Shakeela’s husband collapsed during the raid and her other son took him to hospital. The family was moved out of the house before the encounter started.
The authorities shut down schools and colleges to prevent protests, forcing thousands of students already on their way to campuses to return home. Internet services were suspended.
But clashes broke out at several places during which the forces used pellet guns and tear-gas shells to disperse mobs. Several people were injured.
The separatists have called for a shutdown against the killings on Thursday.