The army on Thursday flew aviation helicopters for aerial surveillance of more than twenty villages in J&K’s southern Shopian district
Srinagar: A civilian driver was killed and three soldiers were injured in a militant ambush in Jammu and Kashmir’s southern Shopian district on Thursday evening.
They were in a column of the Army’s 62 Rashtriya Rifles returning to a base after being part of a daylong ‘cordon-and-search operation when attacked by the militants in Shopian’s Imam Sahib area.
Defence spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said the troops swiftly engaged the militants and the fire fight between the two sides was on when reports last came in. He said, "Exchange of fire took place between returning column of the Army and the terrorists in general area Imam Sahib, Shopian. The operation is under progress."
However, the police sources said that a cab driver hired by the Army to ferry the troops back to their base was killed and three soldiers on board the Sumo vehicle were wounded when targeted with assault rifles by the militants in Imam Sahib’s Baskuchan village.
The slain civilian has been identified as Nazir Ahmed Sheikh, a resident of Shopian’s Kachdoora village. The Army had in violation of Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) engaged eight Sumo cabs to ferry the troops for the operation, the sources said.
In a separate operation, the security forces laid siege to Khudwani area of neighbouring Kulgam district. A report said that a top militant commander Junaid Mattoo along with a couple of other gunmen has been trapped in the area. As the operation was on, surging crowds of locals held protests and soon clashed with the security forces hindering the operation against the holed up militants. .
Earlier during the day on Thursday, the Army flew aviation helicopters for aerial surveillance over more than twenty villages of Shopian district after launching a massive anti militant operation at dawn on Thursday. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) fitted with cameras were also used to keep track on militants. However, no arrests were made during the daylong operation.
The troops from the Army’s Rashtriya Rifles along with large contingents of J&K police’s counterinsurgency Special Operations Group (SOG) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) moved from one village to another in search of militants.
Shopian with neighbouring Kulgam and Pulwama districts witnessed a series of terror strikes including snatching of weapons from policemen and bank robberies past week. During one such incident, five policemen and two bank employees were shot dead by the cadres of Hizb-ul-Mujahedin on May 1.
The police officials said that while the Hizb was involved in the murder of policemen and bank officials and looting cash from banks, it were the militants of Lashkar-e-Taiba which are known to have snatched four INSAS and one AK 47 rifles from policemen guarding a court premises in Shopian on Tuesday night.
Reports from Shopian said that the security forces faced resistance from the locals of, at least, two village Sugan and Turkwanagam. Confirming it, DIG police (South Kashmir range) SP Pani said that clashes erupted in these village and that the situation was being brought under control.
“Cordon and search operation in several villages of Shopian is underway since this morning. The operation was launched after reports of presence of militants in the area,” he said. Reports from Shopian said that the villagers shouted pro-freedom slogans and hurled rocks at the security forces at Sugan and Turkwanagam.
The security forces fired teargas canisters and swung bamboo sticks to disperse them. “Police reinforcements have been rushed to these villages to deal with the situation and also to spare the security forces from getting distracted and instead continue with what they have gone there for,” said a police officer who wished anonymity over the phone from Shopian.
The anti-militant operation was ordered by Army Chief General Bipin Rawat who returned to Delhi on Wednesday after a two-day visit of the restive Valley and the LoC. However, he termed it as a “routine” move necessitated by the recent incidents in Shopian and its neigbourhood.
Reports said that apart from 1, 62, 44 and 55 Rashtriya Rifles, the SOG and 114 Battalion of the CRPF were involved in the operations during which men folk were asked to come out of their homes for identification parades in open spaces which is reminiscent of the situation witnessed during the heyday of militancy in Kashmir in early 1990s.
Meanwhile, student protests erupted in north-western town of Sopore on Thursday. The police used tear-smoke to quell the protests, the action during which about twenty girl students fainted. About half a dozen students were injured in the clashes, reports said. Students held protests and clashed with police also in Srinagar.