Kashmir rebels hiding in mosque shot
A security operation against militants hiding in a mosque in a central Kashmir village on Thursday claimed the lives of two militants and caused extensive damage to the place of worship during the 12-hour gunfight.
A soldier, two civilians and a militant also died in three cordon-and-search operations in various other places, the deaths sparking tensions and prompting authorities to order restrictions and suspend Internet services in large parts of the Valley.
A police spokesperson said two militants hiding in the mosque at Panzan village in Budgam district were killed in the gunfight that broke out early on Thursday. A soldier was injured.
One of the two slain militants was Pulwama resident Irfan Ahmad Dar, who used to work as a special police officer and deserted the force to join militancy two months ago.
“Pertinently, the terrorists fired on a search party from a nearby mosque and subsequently the area was cordoned off. The local Auqaf committee was engaged to convince the terrorists to come out. Security forces also appealed to the terrorists to come out,” the police spokesperson said.
“However, the terrorists turned down the offer and consequently the operation had to be carried out in a deliberate manner keeping intact the sanctity of the mosque,” he added.
Panzan Jamia Masjid Auqaf Committee chairman Ghulam Rasool Dar said three of the four storeys of the mosque suffered extensive damage in the gunfight.
“A similar incident took place here in 2002 when two militants were killed inside the mosque. That time the mosque had been razed, but this time I can say the mosque is standing. But barring the intricately designed ground floor, the upper storeys have suffered extensive damage. That is because the militants were hiding in the upper storeys,” Dar told The Telegraph.
“After the 2002 incident, we rebuilt the mosque. Earlier there used to be a wooden structure, but then we built a concrete mosque that can accommodate 2,000 worshippers at a time. It is our jamia (major) masjid and in the past four to five years alone, we have spent Rs 4.5 crore on it,” he added.
Dar said the forces cordoned off the area on Wednesday evening and around 1am he was summoned to request the militants to come out.
“I entered the mosque and addressed the militants loudly. There was no response. I returned and only 30 minutes later the gunfight started. Not much was done (to persuade the militants). They (the security forces) rained mortars on the mosque,” he said.
A police officer, however, said only the top floor had suffered extensive damage, while the second and third floors had witnessed minor harm.
A government source in Budgam said top officials would visit the mosque on Friday to assess the damage.
Militants rarely take refuge in mosques and when they do, often they are running from security forces.
In this case, an official said, the two militants had apparently taken shelter in the mosque although they were not being chased. Residents said some more militants who had been hiding in the area had fled during the gunfight.
In another operation in Srinagar’s Noorbagh, 26-year-old Saleem Malik died in firing allegedly by security forces.
The police spokesperson said a cluster of houses had been cordoned off following specific information and “terrorists fired indiscriminately, resulting in the death of an individual”.
Locals, however, claimed there were no militants in the area and the youth died in firing by the forces.
The third operation took place at Gazi Gund village in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
A gunfight broke out during a raid by security forces, resulting in the death of Lashkar militant Asif Malik. An army jawan identified as Happy Singh of the 19 Rashtriya Rifles also died.
In Kupwara, security forces shot dead a man who they claimed was a non-local who did not heed to a call to stop.
The authorities imposed curfew-like restrictions in Srinagar’s old city and some other areas to prevent protests against the killings from spreading. Internet services were suspended in vast swathes.