The Indian Army said on Tuesday that it has launched a formal inquiry into the killing of three suspected militants by the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir’s Shopian district on July 18. The family members of those killed have claimed that they were labourers, not militants, as labelled by the security forces.

The Army said in a statement that the testimonies of key witnesses were being recorded and the investigation was being closely monitored. “Additional civil witnesses are being asked to depose before the Court of Inquiry,” the statement said. “Concurrently, DNA samples have been collected from Rajouri under the aegis of JKP [Jammu and Kashmir Police] and sent for matching with the terrorists killed on 18 Jul 2020.”

The Army also said it was committed to the ethical conduct of all counter-terrorism operations. “Cases where doubts are raised are investigated under due process as per the law of the land,” it said, adding that the details of the inquiry will be shared periodically “as appropriate without affecting due legal process”.

On August 9, the families of the suspected militants had gone to a local police post with a missing persons complaint, saying that they last spoke to their kin on July 17, a day ahead of the encounter. The missing persons complaint was lodged on August 10.

The three men, all related to one another, were later identified as 20-year-old Imtiyaz Ahmad and 16-year-old Ibrer Ahmad, both from Dharsakri village, and 25-year-old Mohammed Ibrar of Tarkasi village.

For three weeks, the family had waited to approach the police. “We thought they might have been taken into quarantine in Shopian by the administration and that’s why they didn’t call us,” said Hussain, a shepherd in Rajouri, told “We had heard the quarantine period is for 21 days.”

Soon afterwards the complaint was lodged, pictures of the three missing youth went viral on social media. It purportedly showed the dead bodies of three “unidentified terrorists” allegedly killed in a gunfight with security forces in Shopian on July 18.

On July 18, the security forces had said that they received specific inputs about the presence of militants in the area, after which they began the operation. They also said that the suspected militants had allegedly opened fire at the security forces.

Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had demanded an inquiry into the incident.