The family of a civilian killed during a gunfight in Srinagar on Monday has refuted the police’s claims that he was associated with militants, The Kashmir Walla reported.

The man, Mohammad Altaf Bhat, ran a hardware shop near the site of the gunfight in the city’s Hyderpora area.

Bhat’s niece alleged that he was murdered by the police, The Kashmir Walla reported.

“He was used as a human shield in a staged encounter,” Saima Bhat alleged. “He runs a hardware shop and owns the complex where the forces had come for checking. There was no gunfight in that complex. He was taken three times as human shield for checking and when they couldn’t find anything, he was killed there.”

On Monday, the police and the security forces had launched an anti-militancy operation in Hyderpora, PTI reported.

In a tweet, the Kashmir Zone Police claimed that the militants had been hiding in a building belonging to Bhat.

“The house owner who was injured in terrorist fire, succumbed to his injuries,” the police said. “As per source and digital evidence, he has been working as [a] terror associate.”

However, at a press briefing, Kashmir Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar did not identify Bhat as a militant but just as the owner of the building, reported Kashmir News Observer.

He said that Bhat was killed in crossfire, differing the police’s version that he was injured in “terrorist fire”.

“It is not sure whether militant bullet or the bullets fired by forces hit him,” Kumar said at the press briefing. “Militants were carrying pistols and it would be clear after investigations whose bullet hit him.”

The police said that beside Bhat, two militants and an overground worker were killed in the gunfight.

Saima Bhat, the deceased man’s niece, said the police did not hand over his body to the family. They staged a protest at midnight at the Barazulla bridge in Srinagar. “But nobody is paying heed to our cries,” Bhat told The Kashmir Walla.

In a tweet, she said: “You [the police] killed my innocent uncle Mohammad Altaf Bhat in cold-blooded murder. In Hyderpora, you used him as human shield and now saying he was ‘OGW’ [over ground worker]. Return us his body.”

Reacting to the tweet, the Peoples Democratic Party said the allegations levelled by Bhat’s family are serious and warranted a speedy investigation. “The least Jammu and Kashmir Police could do is handover the dead body to the family for a decent burial,” the party said. “Are even dead ones a threat to peace now?”

At the press conference, Kumar said that Bhat’s body was not handed to his family for last rites in view of law and order situation.

Kumar claimed that one of those killed was a foreign militant while another was possibly a resident of Banihal area of Jammu. “We have called a family from Banihal to identify the slain,” the police officer said.

Kumar also claimed that the fourth person, Mudasir Ahmed had provided shelter to Haider and his associate. He claimed that Ahmed was an over ground worker and was living on rent in the building.

PTI, however, reported that Ahmed was believed to be a dental surgeon. Ahmed had sustained injuries in the gunfight and died on Tuesday morning.

“Fourth slain Mudasir was also running a call centre,” Kumar claimed. “This way, he was an OGW [overground worker] and was directly involved in harbouring militants.”

The police officer added that they have recovered two pistols, two magazines, six mobile phones and a few computers from the spot.

When asked if the police had clear proof to shot that Ahmed was an overground worker, Kumar claimed to have digital evidence. He said that evidence would be shared with the media one they get more proof.

Politicians call for inquiry

Meanwhile, Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti demanded a judicial inquiry into the matter.

“Imperative that a credible judicial enquiry is done to bring out the truth and put an end to this rampant culture of impunity,” the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said in a tweet.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Yousuf Tarigami also demanded a judicial inquiry and urged the authorities to handover the bodies of the civilians to their families, Greater Kashmir reported.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah demanded an “impartial and credible inquiry”. “There are far too many questions being raised about the encounter and about the people killed,” he said in a tweet.”