The Jammu and Kashmir Police on Monday uploaded two videos of the December 30 Lawaypora gunfight, in which three suspected militants were killed. While the police claimed they had urged the suspected militants to surrender during the gunfight, the families of the three alleged their kin were innocent civilians, and demanded an investigation.
The three were identified as Ajaz Maqbool Ganie and Ather Mushtaq from Pulwama district and Zubair Lone from Shopian.
The families of the three killed also demanded that their bodies should be returned to them for burial, India Today reported. Militants are not allowed to be buried by their families in Jammu and Kashmir, according to the government’s Covid-19 protocol. Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir, including the Peoples Democratic Party and the National Conference, have also called for an inquiry into the gunfight.
The Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police had on December 31 said they had no reason to doubt the Army’s version of events, but the case will be “looked into”.
In the video, dated December 29, a security official can be heard appealing to the alleged militants to surrender, promising them that they will not be harmed. A drone can also be seen flying over a house. “On 29/12/20 evening after the cordon at Hokersar, troops are repeatedly appealing [to] the trapped terrorists to come out and surrender with assurances that they will not be harmed,” the police tweeted.
In the second video, dated December 30, an officer can be heard telling the alleged militants that if they want to surrender, they should come to the ground floor, leaving behind their weapons and clothes. “At Hokersar on 30/12/2020 in the morning hours, troops are once again appealing [to] the trapped terrorists to come out...and surrender before them,” they said in another tweet.
According to the police statement, released after the gunfight, 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. However, no response or firing can be heard from the alleged militants in the video.
The encounter, according to a police statement, had started on the evening of December 29 when the Indian Army’s 02 Rashtriya Rifles unit launched a cordon and search operation in the area on the basis of a “specific input”. The statement said that the militants had hurled a grenade on the search party and fired indiscriminately on troops. Security forces were fired upon after which the gunbattle started. After being informed about the gunbattle, teams of Jammu and Kashmir Police and Central Reserve Police Force reached the site.
Meanwhile, the families of the three had rushed to Srinagar from south Kashmir soon after the gunfight, and staged a protest outside the Police Control Room in Srinagar. On Monday, they protested at Lal Chowk in the city.
Alleging that the men had been murdered in a fake encounter, the families said that their relatives had left home on December 29 and had not returned. All the three men had called their families that evening to say that they would get home late that night or the next morning. But by the evening, their phones had been switched off. Despite repeated attempts to reach them on their phone through the night, the families said they could not get through, they said in interviews to Scroll.in.
Responding to the claims of the families, the police alleged that all three had links to militant groups. Though the men were not listed in the police’s database of active militants, the police said two of them were “hardcore associates of terrorists (OGWs)”. OGW or Over Ground Workers is the term used for non-combatant members of militant groups who are usually given the task of arranging logistical support.
“Reportedly, third [slain terrorist] might have joined very recently,” the statement said.
The developments came around the time the Jammu and Kashmir Police filed a chargesheet 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.