Kulgam: Police on Wednesday claimed that government forces gunned down high-profile LeT commander Abu Qasim in an ambush at Khandaypora hamlet of south Kashmir’s Kulgam district.
Well-placed sources told CNS that Jammu Kashmir Police along with Army personnel from 9 RR and 18 Battalion CRPF men after receiving inputs that a group of militants are scheduled to pass through a spot in Khandeypora hamlet laid an ambush after 12 on Wednesday night.
Sources added that after waiting for over two hours, a group of three militants emerged in the area and as they reached a power transformer adjacent to a local Masjid, the ambush party fired upon them. Being unaware of the presence of government forces, one militant according to sources died on the spot while two other militants managed to escape. “The slain militant was later identified as Abdul Rehman alias Abu Qasim, the most wanted LeT commander allegedly responsible for multiple militant attacks all across Kashmir,” sources added.
A local from Khandeypora village told CNS that they heard some gunshots at around 2 am. “After a few moments of silence, we heard the movement of troopers. The panic was created in the area after somebody who used the public address system informed people about the crackdown and asked us to come out of their houses. People came out in large numbers while troopers launched massive search operations,” he said, adding that as the people came to know about the death of a militant, they started raising pro-freedom slogans.
Locals said that government forces had inputs that two militants including one from Khudwani Kulgam Majid Ahmed Zargar have been hiding in the village. “In a bid to persuade Zargar to surrender before Army, his brother Feroz Ahmed was brought in from his house and was directed to use Public Address System, asking his brother to surrender without any delay,” the locals said.
They said that Feroz repeatedly asked his brother Majid to surrender but there was no response from any side. “As the news about the death of Qasim spread in and around the area, people in large numbers marched towards Khandeypora which was sealed by government forces. Showing stiff resistance, the protesters amid pro-freedom and anti-India slogans attacked government forces with stones. In a bid to disperse the protesters, government forces resorted to aerial firing and tear-smoke shelling, however, the protesters in thousands entered the village, forcing government troopers to call off the operation.”
Locals added that before leaving the area, government forces picked up the dead body of the slain militant and took it to Police Station Kulgam. “The government forces were planning to launch a massive operation against the ‘hiding’ militants but the protesters forced them to leave the village,” they said and claimed a youth from Khudwani whom they identified as Aqib Ahmed Sofi was detained and whisked away by police to some unknown destination.
Some locals alleged that it was not the body of LeT commander Abu Qasim, a claim refuted by police. Deputy Inspector General of Police, South Kashmir Range, Nitesh Kumar told CNS, “Abu Qasim was killed in an ambush while two other militants managed to escape,” he said and added that the body of Qasim was handed over to the local Auqaf Committee for last rites.
Reports said that thousands of people from different parts of Kulgam, Pulwama and Anantnag districts thronged Khandeypora while people from different areas wished to bury Qasim in their villages. Reports said that amid pro-freedom slogans, people especially females showered flower petals, confectionaries and dry fruits over the body of the slain body. Thousands of mourners participated in his funeral prayers that were offered at Higher Secondary school Bugam.
As people were busy laying Qasim to rest in Bugam, a family from Khandeypora claimed that the slain militant is their son whom they identified as Muhammad Yaqoob Hajam. The body was taken to Khandeypora where again the people brought the body to Bugam and the slain militant was laid to rest there.
Eyewitnesses told CNS that hundreds of youth who were part of the funeral procession attacked CRPF’s 18 Battalion camp with stones, prompting government forces to fire several shots in the air. Reports said amid pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, the mourners waved Pakistani flags and clashed with government forces that were deployed in hundreds in and around Kulgam district.