The Army on Monday said it will investigate the killing of three young men from Rajouri in an alleged fake encounter in Shopian last month after families based on photographs on social media claimed they were their kin.
Family members of the trio, Abrar Ahmad son of Bagha Khan, Imtiyaz Ahmad son of Sabr Hussain, and Abrar Ahmad son of Mohammad Yusuf, all residents of Peeri Kotranka in Rajouri district, said their sons disappeared mysteriously after they left home for Kashmir to find work on July 16.
The next day they called up their families informing they had reached safely in Shopian. Since then they have not called up their families and their phones are switched off. They said they could not get in touch with the trio -- aged 17, 19 and 22 -- for three weeks.
“We thought they have been taken for quarantine in Kashmir and their phones would be out of charge. We kept waiting for 14 days. Then 21 days, but when we there was no response, we filed a missing report in police station in Rajouri,” said a relative.
He alleged photographs of three slain unidentified “militants” shot during the June 18 encounter looked like their children. “We hope fate of our innocent children is known. We are poor. They had come to Kashmir to find work and earn some money.”
Kashmir-based Army headquarters released a brief statement saying the matter will be investigated.
“We have noted social media inputs linked to the operation at Shopian on 18 Jul 2020. The three terrorists killed during the operation have not been identified and the bodies were buried based on established protocols. The Army is investigating the matter,” an Army press release said.
The allegations of the family members and some activists based in Rajouri, if found true, will be deja vu of the 2000 Pathribal incident in which five civilians from Anantnag were killed by the security forces and passed off as ‘terrorists’.
A similar incident in Macchil took place in 2010 in which three civilians were killed in a staged encounter in Kupwara.
A police officer from Rajouri told News18 the family of the trio had lodged a missing report with the police in Rajouri last week.
“Imtiyaz Ahmad, Abrar and his namesake Abrar, left for Shopian on July 16. Since then, the family has lost contact with them. Their phones did not receive or connect calls after July 18,” he told News18 on condition of anonymity.
While no police officer was willing to come on record, the Kashmir Police on July 18 had said troops of 62RR acting on a specific information about presence of terrorists in Amshipora village of Shopian district, launched an operation and during search, terrorists fired upon Army personnel and encounter started. It had said police and CRPF also joined the operations.
“During encounter, three unidentified terrorists were killed. Bodies of all the killed three terrorists were retrieved from the site of encounter. The identification and affiliation of the killed terrorists is being ascertained. Incriminating materials, including arms and ammunition, were recovered from the site of encounter,” the police statement had said.
It had said the recovered materials have been taken into case records for further investigation and to probe their complicity in other terror crimes.
The bodies of the killed terrorists have been sent to Baramulla for their last rites after conducting medico-legal formalities, including collection of their DNA.
An FIR No. 42/2020 under relevant sections of law has been registered at Hirpora police station and investigation has been initiated into the matter.
But at least three members of the family and an activist told News18 the three young men had gone to Shopian to earn livelihood and were not remotely linked to militancy.
Guftar Ahmad Chaudhary, a tribal leader based in Pir Panjal, wrote a tweet saying the families have apprehensions that these boys may have been killed in the Shopian encounter.
Zafar Choudhary, a political commentator who also runs a popular channel on social media from Jammu, tweeted that he had spoken to the family who had identified the three youths “beyond any doubt”.
“The three boys killed in Amshipora were in my distant relation. I have just spoken to family, they’ve identified them beyond any doubt. They don’t remember the exact date of speaking to them last but say the news of death came on 22nd day of losing contact with them,” Choudhary wrote.
In a tweet from PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti’s Twitter handle, her daughter, Iltija Mufti said the reports of the “staged encounter” in Shopian showed the armed forces were operating “with impunity”:
“Shocked to hear about reports of 3 missing labourers reportedly killed in a staged encounter at Shopian.Armed forces have a free hand to operate with impunity. Explains why bodies are allowed to decompose at unknown locations. Probes into recent encounters must be ordered,” Mufti said.