Srinagar, Oct 21:Seven civilians, including a 10-year-old boy, were killed and at least 50 others injured, many of them grievously, in Kulgam when a powerful explosion rattled a gunfight site thronged by people after the killing of three militants Sunday morning.
The incident happened at Laroo village of the district after government forces launched a cordon-and-search operation following intelligence report about the presence of militants.
Soon there was firing from either ends ensuing an encounter in which three militants, reportedly of Jaish-e-Mohammed outfit, were killed.
Police identified the slain militants as Shahid Ahmad Tantary of Wangam, Shopian; Zubair Ahmad Lone of Ahwatoo, Kulgam, and Yazil Ahmad Makroo of Arwani, Bijbehara.
“Arms and ammunition were recovered from the spot,” a police spokesman said.
As the encounter ended, locals, as has become a routine exercise in such situations, thronged the gunfight site, a house which was already reduced to rubble by explosives and other weaponry government forces use in such situations.
Reports from the village said locals were busy dousing the flames at the house.
Minutes later, an explosive shell, which the police dubbed as “stray explosive material” and many reports as improvised explosive device (IED),went off injuring dozens of people around it.
Initially, there were doubts whether the people had died in the explosion or during clashes, which started soon after the encounter, when the locals had flocked in to engage the forces.
As the dust settled, bloody scenes started to emerge from the gunfight site where people, many already dead with the sheer impact of the explosion, were lying in the own pools of blood.
The injured were soon shifted to nearby district hospitals in Kulgam and Anantnag, from where many had to be referred to SMHS, Srinagar’s tertiary care hospital.
The Kulgam district hospital authorities said that initially three injured were brought to the hospital, who were declared dead on arrival.
Two youth identified as Uzair Ahmad and Masroor Ahmad (a 10-year old-boy), too were declared dead on arrival by the doctors at SMHS.
Another was declared brought dead by doctors at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Soura, Srinagar. Later one more injured succumbed to his wounds.
As the day progressed, the civilian casualty figure rose to seven while several hospitals had admitted over 50 of the injured, many with critical and life-altering wounds.
The seven slain civilians were, reportedly, identified as UbaidLaway son of Mohammad Maqbool Laway, Uzair Ahmad, Masroor Ahmad, Talib Maqbool of Laroo, Tajamul Ahmad of DenewBogund, Irshad Ahmad of Shurat and Auqib Ahmad Sheikh son of Gul Mohammad of Makhanpora, Kulgam.
While police only confirmed the death of six civilians, reports said there was another unidentified body, completely charred and beyond recognition, at the hospital.
Shamshad Ahmad, a local of Kulgam, who was accompanying his injured son at SMHSsaid: “If the encounter was over and forces took the bodies of the militants along with them, why was an IED left out near the encounter site when forces knew that the locals and the house owner will visit the site soon after?”
As per him, the police officials concerned did not issue any warning to the people about not going near the encounter site.
The hospital was reverberating with anti-India and pro-freedom slogans even as many Srinagar residents volunteered to donate the blood to the injured people.
Ishfaq Ahmad, who witnessed the blast, said that around 11 in the morning, when the encounter was already over and government forces were withdrawing from the spot, scores of youth rushed to the encounter site to have the glimpse of the militants that were killed in the encounter.
“Not known to the fact that forces had placed IEDs near the encounter site, as soon as youth entered into the area there was a huge blast which resulted in the injuries to more the 60 people out which at least six died,” Ishfaq said.
He added that the death toll may increaseas the “IED” exploded at a very close range to the huge crowd.
Back in Kulgam, there was an all pervasive sense of mourning in Laroo and its adjoining villages as locals were frantically rushing to the spot to enquire about the well-being of their relatives and friends.
Authorities suspended cellphone and internet services in Kulgam in a bid to thwart more protests.