As the clock struck 10:30 on Saturday night, the villagers at Dragad saw an unusual moment of a group of at least 11 young men with guns hanging on their shoulders. Many of them had rucksacks, tightly tied to their backs.
A few of them had long hair and beard. They were all young, seemingly in mid-twenties and looking for a place to sit and relax. A few of them walked towards a residential house and the rest followed. But the moment they went inside the house, the area was cordoned off.
Soon, the people saw army men in large numbers along with the men from special operation group of police (SOG) marching towards the house.The police say it was “the accurate human intelligence” that helped them track the militants down.
“We also traced cell phones of the militants to get the exact location,” said a police officer. “A call made by one of the militants to more of his associates to join them at the house proved very effective in zeroing in on the house.
”A top police official who didn’t want to be identified told that it looked like there was a joint meeting of Hizbul Mujhaideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba cadres to plan their future strategy. “I would say, first the mobile call made by the militant asking more militants to join the meeting and then the human intelligence proved to be very helpful,” he said.
A police source said that the police and army have recently updated the mobile call tracking system which gets them “the exact locations of the militants”
The locals said as the bodies were being taken away by police agitated people poured out onto the streets shouting pro-freedom slogans and clashed with government forces who retaliated by lobbing tear shells, firing pellets and bullets.“Two of the civilians sustained bullet injuries and they are being treated at hospital,” locals said.
They seven slain militants were identified as local Hizb militants Adil Ahmed Thoker of Humhuna, Nazim Dar of Nagbal, UbaidShafiMalla of Trenz, YawarItoo of Safanagri-Zainapora, Rayees Ahmed Thoker of Padarpora, and Ashfaq Malik of Pinjuraand Zubair Turay of main town Shopian- all from Shopian district.
“Four other local Hizb militants from Shopian including top commander Zeenat-ul-Islam alias Alqama of Sugan village managed to give forces a slip during the initial exchange of fire,” official sources said.
Rafiq Ahmad Nengroo’s wife in whose house 11 militants had taken shelter is the maternal aunt of Zubair Turray.Turray, 25, had joined Hizb ranks in May 2017 prior to which he was a Tehreek-i-Hurriyat activist and had been booked on charges of stone throwing and organizing street protests in as many as 23 FIRs.
He was also incarcerated under PSA on several occasions before escaping from custody from police post Keegam.A few days later he announced through a video that he had joined militant ranks.The overnight encounter was one of three gunfights that broke out in South Kashmir on Sunday.
In another encounter that broke out in the wee hours in Kachdoora village of Shopian four more militants were killed whose identities and affiliations were being ascertained.
Another body was also lying in a police station and it is believed to be of the owner of the house where the shootout took place. Hundreds of youth marched towards the encounter site and clashed with government forces in a bid to help the trapped militants escape from the cordon.
Three youth were killed and hundreds including women sustained injuries, some with bullets during the clashes as government forces fired tear smoke, shotgun pellets, and live ammunition.
People were seen ferrying the injured on the motorbikes towards different hospitals in Kulgamand Shopian. The fierce exchange of fire lasted till evening when soldiers forces used explosives device to blow up the house were militants earlier fought from.
Two adjacent houses later went up in flames, the villagers alleged.
Earlier, in an encounter that broke out between government forces and militants in Diagam village near Anantnag town a Hizb militant was killed and another was captured alive.
The slain militant was identified as 19-year-old Rouf Ahmad Khanday of DehrunaHillad village of Kokernag.Khanday, a first-year BA student went missing in February this year and recently his picture brandishing a gun had gone viral.
During the gunfight, police bought the parents of Khanday to the encounter site and offered him to surrender.“The patents pleaded to their son to surrender but he refused,” police sources said.Later, heavy explosives were used to blow up the house and Khanday’s body retrieved from the debris.
Before killing Khanday, his associate, Imran Rashid of Bijbehara who had joined militancy only a few days back was captured.
Director General of Police Shesh Paul Vaid said that since all the seven militants killed at Dragad were locals, it was painful to see them dead. “They were given a chance to surrender, but they refused and instead opened fire,” he said. “I request all the youth not to tread the path of violence.