A Lashker-e-Toiba militant and three civilians were killed and 17 injured in central Kashmir’s Budgam district on Tuesday. The police said they got to know militants were hiding in Durbugh area of Chadoora, 22 km from here. A joint team of the army’s Rashtriya Rifles and the police Special Operations Group surrounded the area in the early hours.
“As a house-to-house search was on, the hiding militants opened fire on the security forces, triggering an encounter that lasted hours,” a police officer said. When the security forces were engaged in a gun battle with the holed-up militants, a large number of protesters started pelting stones at them.
The police said about 20 people were injured in the action against the protesters. Three youths— Zahid Dar, Saqib Ahmad and Ashfaq Ahmad— later succumbed to injuries. Zahid was the only brother of five sisters, people at the site said. The house where the militants were holed up was blasted by security forces, resulting in the death of an LeT operative identified as Touseef Wagay. A security person was injured. Stone-pelting at encounter sites has emerged a major problem for security forces in Kashmir in recent months, forcing Army Chief Bipin Rawat to warn that civilian protesters obstructing encounters would be treated as “overground workers of terrorists” and dealt with “harshly.”
Tuesday’s is the third incident, since Rawat’s warning in February, in which civilian protesters have been killed during an encounter. The latest incident has resulted in the highest civilian casualties in the vicinity of any encounter site this year. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said, “It is highly painful to see young boys losing their lives.”
Terming the deaths as unfortunate, she said it was high time peace was given a chance. Meanwhile, separatist leaders, including Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, have called for a complete shutdown on Wednesday.