Three suspected militants were killed in a gunfight with security forces on the outskirts of Srinagar on Wednesday, the Kashmir Zone Police said. However, the families of the deceased said that they were innocent civilians, Kashmir Observer reported.

The police identified the suspected militants as Ajaz Maqbool Ganie and Ather Mushtaq from Pulwama district and Zubair Lone from Shopian.

The gunfight began in Lawaypora area on Tuesday evening. The Indian Army, Central Reserve Police Force and the police launched a cordon and search operation in the area after they received inputs about the presence of militants near Hokersar.

According to a police statement, the militants were hiding in a building near the highway. “Repeated announcements were made to the hiding terrorists to lay down their illegal weapons and surrender, instead the hiding terrorists fired continuously upon the searching party,” the statement claimed.

The joint search operation was suspended on Tuesday night due to darkness. The police said that the security forces, however, remained alert throughout the night. “Upon their search, arms (One AK 47 rifle and two pistols) and ammunition and other incriminating material along with some documents were recovered,” the statement said.

The families of the three alleged militants disputed the official claim and staged a protest against the killings.

“Some families from South Kashmir came to PCR [Police Control Room] and claimed them to be their wards,” the police statement said. “They have been sent to Ganderbal for further identification and participation in last rites in the presence of magistrate.”

Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti questioned the actions of security forces. “Worrying that in the past few months after the Shopian fake encounter other families too in J&K have alleged that their sons were innocent and killed in a staged encounter,” she tweeted. “Authorities need to come clean on this.”

Earlier this week, the Jammu and Kashmir Police filed a charge sheet against three persons, including an Army captain, in connection with the killing of three labourers in a fake encounter in Shopian in July. They were buried as unidentified militants.

A formal inquiry into the deaths of the three men began in August. The Court of Inquiry, which completed its investigation in September, found prima facie evidence that its personnel had exceeded powers under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1990, in the episode. Disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act were initiated against the accused personnel.

The identities of the three men were subsequently confirmed through a DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid test. The bodies were handed over to their families in Baramulla in October.