After Shopian, death knocks at Kulgam; 4 civilians killed, over 60 injured as militant’s manage to escape
By Nisar Dharma
Srinagar, Apr 11: Eleven days after 18 people were killed at Shopian, Kashmir Wednesday woke up to the news of another gunfight in south Kashmir that devoured four civilians and left over 60 injured.
The gunfight involved “two to three” militants cornered by the government forces at Khudwani, Kulgam.
A police official said the forces had cordoned the village during the night and zeroed in on a cluster of houses in Wani Mohalla, where the militants were suspected to be hiding. “During the search operation, some gunshots were heard after which an encounter started,” the official said. He said three forces’ personnel were wounded in the firefight and were evacuated to an army hospital. An injured soldier succumbed soon after, he said.
Early in the morning, the civilians from Khudwani and its adjoining villages started moving towards the encounter site and engaged the government forces, deployed in strength, in pitched battles.
By 9 am, firing by the forces had left as many as 35 civilians wounded, including Sharjeel Ahmad Sheikh, a groom-to-be in his 20s.
Shot in the abdomen, Sharjeel succumbed at the District Hospital Anantnag.
By noon, 16-year-old Bilal Ahmad Tantray, a resident of Hawoora-Mishpora village, was hit in the chest. He succumbed at the hospital in Qaimoh.
Half an hour later, another teen, Faisal Illahi (14), of Melhoora, Shopian, was hit by a bullet.
He was removed to the Qaimoh Sub-district hospital, where he, too, succumbed.
The killings sparked more widespread clashes, a spontaneous shutdown, and internet blockade across Kulgam and in other districts.
The authorities ordered closure of all the educational institutes in several areas of south Kashmir.
In the evening, Aijaz Ahmad Palla, 28, of Bijbehara, suffered critical injuries in the clashes with government forces at Khudwani.
He died before reaching the hospital.
The house in which the militants were hiding was razed to the ground using explosives.
Government forces, as per witnesses, had pressed in helicopters during the firefight.
At least, two adjacent houses also caught fire during the bombing. The forces, however, found no body in the debris of the houses and decided to call off the operation by around 6 pm.
The militants are believed to have escaped the cordon. Several hospitals of south Kashmir and Srinagar reported attending to at least 60 injured civilians.
While this report was being filed, eight injured were admitted to the SMHS Hospital, while five victims were taken to SK Institute of Medical Sciences and one to the Bones and Joints Hospital.
Two of the injured were in a critical condition.
These included 45-year-old Abdul Salam Bhat, of Khudwani, who received a bullet in his neck which exited from his shoulder.
He was immediately put on a ventilator at the SMHS Hospital, where doctors said that his chances of survival were less.
Meanwhile, thousands of people participated in the funeral prayers of the slain civilians. All the slain later laid to rest amid sobs and tears while people were seen shouting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans.
The three militants who escaped re-appeared at the encounter site after the cordon was withdrawn and shouted slogans.