SRINAGAR — Two local militants and a soldier were killed in a gunfight that broke out in Padgampora, Awantipora in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, officials said on Tuesday.
An unnamed official quoted by the news agency KNO said that on specific input about the presence of militants, a joint team of Police, Army and CRPF after receiving information about the presence of militants launched a search operation in Padgampora, Awantipora.
He said that as the joint team of forces intensified searches towards the suspected spot, the hiding militants fired upon the party, which retaliated, thus triggering an encounter.
The official said that during the exchange of fire, two militants were killed and they have been identified as Aqib Mushtaq Bhat of Malangpora and Aijaz Bhat of Pastuna, Tral.
A police spokesman in a statement issued to KNO said that in a bravely executed operation, based upon specific input, joint forces of the Army, J&K Police and CRPF launched a cordon in Padgampora village of Awantipora.
“During the search, terrorists hiding inside a mosque opened indiscriminate fire upon search parties and in this initial exchange of fire, two jawans of the Army sustained grievous injuries while neutralizing one terrorist on spot. One of the jawans later on attained martyrdom,” the spokesman said, adding that “extreme caution and limited firepower was used in view of the sacred precincts. Civilians praying inside were also evacuated on time, preventing any collateral damage.”
The spokesman said that the after resuming the search for the second terrorist who was holed up inside a bathroom of an adjacent building, again caution was exercised and 14 civilians were rescued from the place before he was neutralized.
“Killed terrorists have been identified as Aqib Mushtaq Bhat of Malangpora, Pulwama (A-Category) associated with proscribed terror outfit HM and for past few months working with TRF and Aijaz Ahmad Bhat of Syedabad Pastuna Tral (C-Category) associated with terror outfit JeM and also working in coordination with TRF. Aqib was active since January 2021 and Aijaz was active since May 2022,” he said.
The spokesman said that incriminating materials, arms and ammunition including one AK-47 rifle, one AK-74 rifle, one pistol, three grenades, two pouches, five AK magazines, two pistol magazines, 103 AK rounds, 20 pistol rounds and two Aadhar cards were recovered from the site of the encounter.
The spokesman said that investigation so far revealed that both the slain, although joined through different organisations, had come together to conspire and attack minorities, outsiders, other vulnerable targets and security forces.
He went on to state that they were involved in FIR No. 14/2023 of Police Station Litter (recent killing of Kashmiri Pandit Sanjay Pandita at Achan, Pulwama), FIR No. 82/2022 of Police Station Pulwama (attack on two outside labourers at Lajoora), FIR No. 115/2022 of Police Station Tral (weapon snatching attempt), FIR No. 76/2022 of Police Station Tral (OGW module which supported them for grenade lobbing) among many other cases.
ADGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar paid rich tributes to the martyred soldier and appreciated the joint efforts of police and security forces for conducting such a complex operation where a hostage situation was defused tactfully and also the sanctity of the mosque was maintained.
Army Version: Defence spokesman in Srinagar in a statement to the news agency KNO said that based on a specific input, a joint cordon and search operation was launched by the Army, Police and CRPF at about 6:35 PM on February 23 at Patgampora, Pulwama.
“In order to evade security forces, the terrorists occupied a mosque in the target area. Ensuring the sanctity of the mosque, the security forces closed in and appealed to the terrorists to surrender. The terrorists, however, opened indiscriminate fire on security forces and when cornered, used civilians in the target area as a shield to escape,” the statement said.
It added, “The security forces displayed utmost restraint and evacuated civilians praying inside the mosque, thereby preventing any collateral damage. The security forces fired with extreme caution to preserve the sacred precincts and neutralized one terrorist on the spot.”
The Defence spokesman said that the second terrorist fled and hid in the adjacent building housing the local citizens. “In the intense firefight, lasting several hours, the security forces subsequently not only neutralized the second terrorist but also safely evacuated the civilians trapped inside the house.”
“During this action, Sepoy Pawan Kumar and Naik Hemraj, lead from the front and suffered multiple gunshot wounds and were immediately evacuated to 92 Base Hospital, Srinagar. Subsequent to the elimination of both the terrorists, the search of the area resulted in the recovery of two AK series rifles, one pistol, three grenades and other war-like stores,” the statement said.
It added, “Sepoy Pawan Kumar in a sheer act of bravery overpowered the first terrorist in hand-to-hand combat and was grievously injured. He subsequently succumbed to his injuries, making the supreme sacrifice in the highest traditions of the Army.”