The Jammu and Kashmir Police on Thursday said going to an encounter site was as good as committing suicide and urged “young boys” to stay away from such places. Director General of Police SP Vaid said youngsters in the Valley were being misled and misused by people who do not want peace restored in the region, reported PTI.

“In the encounter, even security forces and police take cover of a bulletproof vehicle or a house,” said Vaid. “A bullet does not know whom it will hit. My appeal to all the young boys is that they should remain in their homes and not come to encounter sites. The youth must understand that they are being used by people for their short-term political gains.”

Vaid said the people responsible were using WhatsApp and social media platforms to mobilise protestors. “The moment an encounter starts, they activate around 300 WhatsApp groups, each having more than 250 members, and other social networking websites like Facebook, instigating young boys to reach the encounter site and throw stones so that the terrorists escape from the spot,” he said.

The senior police officer said the force was looking into such WhatsApp groups and some of them had been traced back to Pakistan. “Some of these accounts have been traced across [the border],” Vaid said. “It is an attempt by the enemies of India to create problems. All these numbers are being monitored and we will take action against those operating them from here.”

He said that though the trend of young people interfering during encounters and helping militants flee was a big challenge for the force, but “despite grave provocation, we have been able to minimise collateral damage and civilian casualties”.

On Tuesday, three civilians were killed and 17 others were injured as troops fought militants in central Jammu and Kashmir. Clashes erupted between stone-pelting protestors and security forces after they began to hinder their operation against militants in the Durbugh locality in Budgam district.

A number of such civilian deaths have been reported from encounter sites in the recent past. Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had warned civilians of “tough action” if they tried to hinder security forces from fighting militants.