A day after Army and J&K Police described the three men killed in a Srinagar encounter as 'terrorists' and 'hardcore associates' respectively, the families of the trio picked holes in the police version and pleaded their innocence.
The families, two of whom have members working with Jammu and Kashmir Police, described the claims of two forces as concocted and full of gaps. They alleged the three had no connection with militancy and were killed in a staged encounter. While two were students, aged 22 and 17, the third, a 24-year-old, was a construction worker.
On Wednesday, the three men from south Kashmir were killed in an encounter with the Army on the outskirts of Srinagar at Lawaypora on the Srinagar-Baramulla highway. The police said one AK rifle, two pistols and other incriminating material were recovered from the slain.
Mohammad Maqbool Ganie, father of slain Aijaz Ganie - one of the three men killed in Wednesday’s encounter - who works with Jammu and Kashmir Police, told News 18 there was no evidence that suggest his son was involved with any militant activities.
He said Aijaz was on complete bed rest for last 35 days on doctor's advice. He had hardly stepped out of home as he had serious issue with his back, he stated. “The entire village knew he stayed at home. Where was the chance of him joining militancy if he was bed-ridden and confined to his home,” he questioned.
Ganie said his son had left for Pulwama degree college on Tuesday to submit his form. He claimed he was seen taking tea at a teashop in Pulwama at 3 pm. “There are eyewitness accounts that suggest he was in Pulwama at 3 pm and the Lawaypora encounter started at 5 pm. How come he reached there and carried the weapons to the site. Does it mean he was enjoying tea and couriering the weapons too,” said Ganie, who is a head constable with Ganderbal police.
He said Aijaz spoke on phone twice in the day - at 3 pm with his sister and around 4 pm with his mother. He conveyed he was coming home with a friend and if it would get late, then he will stay at his home, he recalled.
He debunked police claim that his son was an overground worker. “How can a person become an overground worker within one or two hours? Surely, we would have got an inkling if he was. Or police could have told us,” Ganie said, adding in that case there must be an FIR or raids on his house.
He said the family had no idea about Aijaz's killing till Wednesday morning and he was informed by concerned Rajpora police station that there was an encounter in Lawaypora.
“They first asked for a photograph of Aijaz and when I enquired what had happened I was told to visit Police Control Room. At PCR, I was shocked to see my son's body lying along with two other boys,” he added.
“All I want is justice and my son's dead body,” he said.
Irfan Ahmad Wani, brother of Zubair Wani, another slain youth, said there was no substance in police statement that he (Zubair) was involved in militancy. “He ran a good shuttering business and would be busy with that.” Irfan and his elder brother are police constables.
He sounded angry at police statement where it is mentioned that families were unaware about the involvement of their wards in militant activities. “If police had such information, why did it not tell us or arrest them. Or file a case,” he said.
“Zubair's record is clean. There is no FIR against him. Had it been, the village head would have been communicated. Check with local police station and they will tell you that there is no case against him.”
Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, father of Athar Wani, 17, too questioned the killing saying as per standard operating procedure, parents are summoned to the encounter sites to persuade their wards to surrender. “We were called only after their killing. No effort was made to save them,” he said.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti called for handing back the bodies to the families. “Met families of the young men killed in Lawaypora encounter. Forget justice, even their dead bodies are not being returned to them for the last rites. They have lost their beloved sons forever & in the midst of grief have to plead even for closure,” she wrote on twitter.
The Army and police maintained they had made repeated appeals on Tuesday and Wednesday to the trio to lay down arms but instead, the trio fired and lobbed grenades on the troops. “The impression we got was that they did not want to surrender,” H S Sahi, general officer commanding, Kilo Force told reporters on Wednesday.
He said the trio were plotting to carry out a big terror attack in Srinagar for publicity. A late evening police statement had said the three were “hardcore associates of terrorists”. Police said it will investigate the case and afterwards will come to the conclusion soon on merits.