Srinagar: Over a dozen homes were burned down and many others were allegedly plundered by security forces involved in an operation that resulted to the killing of two Hizbul Mujahideen militants in Nawakadal area of Downtown Srinagar on Tuesday, May 19.
The residents of the area alleged that the police looted cash, jewellery and other valuables from several homes in the dense locality of Kanimazar as they carried out the operation to eliminate militants in the area.
"They first looted our homes and then set the locality on fire," a resident told NewsClick. Her husband Bilal Ahmad used earn his livelihood as a daily wage labourer buy, due to the lockdown, he was entirely dependent on money he had saved for times like these. "They vandalised our homes...broke our lockers and took everything, how will we survive now?," Bilal's wife said.
Bilal's home was closer to the encounter site where more than a dozen homes were gutted following the operation. However, Mohammad Rafiq's home, which is relatively at a safer distance was allegedly not spared too. His wife was inconsolable at the loss she had suffered. "The police barged into our home and not only took cash and jewellery but, my husband's laptop as well," she said.
Tariq Ahmad, whose family was also affected, said the J&K police carried out the heinous act during a night operation.
"They came like the dacoits of Chambal valley and looted valuables. Many families had saved money and jewellery for their daughter's marriage, they took that," he said.
The Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Srinagar Dr Haseeb Mughal, however, refuted these allegations as "baseless and motivated."
"Don’t malign police and security forces...Still if there is any specific complaint, we are ready to probe," Mughal told NewsClick.
Also read: J&K: Days After Encounter, Pulwama’s Beighpora Lies in Ruins
The Tuesday operation was jointly launched by J&K Police and CRPF in the wee hours, around 2 AM, following which two Hizb militants, who the police later identified as Junaid Ahmed Sehrai and Tariq Ahmed Sheikh from Srinagar and Pulwama localities, respectively were killed. A J&K police personnel and a CRPF man were also injured in the encounter.
Of the two militants, official sources said, one was killed inside a house and the other was killed in an alley outside while he was making an attempt to escape.
Junaid Sehrai, one of the top Hizbul militants, had joined militant ranks in March 2018 and was part of scores of militant operations in the region. He was the son of current chairman of separatist party Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH), Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai. Junaid, an MBA holder who worked in a private company before, joined Hizb ranks soon after his father took charge of TeH from separatist heavyweight Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Ashraf, formerly among the most trusted lieutenants of Geelani for years, is the among the only topmost Hurriyat leadership whose kin has joined militant ranks.
Soon after Junaid's killing, Ashraf led funeral prayers in absentia for his son at his Baghat e Barzulla residence in the outskirts of Srinagar, which was attended by close relatives and neighbors.
The Nawakadal encounter is the first encounter in Downtown Srinagar in the past two years. Earlier in October 2018, a top Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militant commander Mehraj Bangroo was killed alongwith his two associates and a CRPF personnel in an encounter in the nearby Downtown locality of Fateh Kadal.
The Tuesday encounter has left residents of Nawakadal in deep shock as they witnessed houses razed to the ground and charred by flames. The entire locality was covered in smoke as fire tenders, assisted by local people, tried to douse the flames.
Soon after the forces withdrew from the encounter site, clashes broke out in the area following which the police and CRPF resorted to the use of tear gas shells and pellet guns to disperse the protesters. The authorities restored mobile calling services later in the evening after shutting it for the day in the wake of the encounter. The mobile internet services, however, continued to remain blocked in Srinagar only a week after it was restored. Earlier they were discontinued after the killing of top Hizb militant commander Riyaz Naikoo on May 6.
The security forces have intensified counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir despite the lockdown and worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 which has infected over a thousand people in the region.