Srinagar: Srinagar and several other major towns in the Valley have been placed under curfew or locked down to hold back mourning rallies following the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the new age poster boy of militancy in the restive state.
A series of clashes was reported from many areas in which at least four persons were injured since Friday evening and all of them are admitted to various hospitals and out of danger.
Wani, 22, was along with two of his aides Sartaj Ahmed Sheikh and Masoom Ahmed Shah killed in a fierce two-and-a-half-hours long encounter with security forces in Kokernag area of southern Anantnag district on Friday. He was carrying a cash reward of Rs one million on his head.
Amid heightening tensions and anger, the authorities fanned out thousands of policemen in riot gear overnight to enforce the security lockdown in parts of Srinagar, Pulwama, Tral, Anantnag, Kulgam, Sopore, Shopian and some other towns whereas security has been beefed up further elsewhere in the Valley. Most separatist leaders have been placed under house arrest or detained in police stations to prevent them from joining the planned mourning rallies.
Amarnath Yatra has been suspended and no pilgrim was on Saturday allowed to move from winter capital Jammu towards the Valley to relocate to the 12,729-foot-high cave-shrine tucked away in Pahalgam hills.
Those who returned to the base-camps of Baltal and Nunwun (Pahalgam) after paying obeisance at Amarnath on Saturday morning or will do it later during the day are likely to be escorted out of the Valley during the night time, police sources said.
As many 12,500 personnel from CRPF and other central forces and another 8,000 men from the J&K police besides columns of Army are providing security cover to the 48-day annual pilgrimage which commenced on July 2. Till Friday evening, 103,063 pilgrims had visited the cave-shrine.
The authorities have also suspended the Internet services on mobile phones and through dongles “as a precautionary measure”. Earlier many people took to the social networking sites to mourn Wani’s death. Many replaced their profile pictures with that of Wani on Facebook and Twitter.com to pay tribute to the slain militant commander.
Train services between Baramulla in northwest Kashmir and Banihal town across the Pirpanjal mountain ridge in Jammu division have also been suspended. Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education (JKBOSE), Kashmir University and Central University, Kashmir have postponed all examinations scheduled for Saturday.
In Srinagar strict restrictions under Section 144 are being enforced in areas falling under police stations of Nowhatta, Khanyar, Rainawari, M.R. Gunj, Safakadal, Maisuma and Kralkhud. Elsewhere, a complete shutdown is being observed to mourn Wani’s killing.
Late Friday night, thousands of mourners turned up at Srinagar’s historic Jamia Masjid to offer Nimaz-e-Jinaza Gaibana or prayers in absentia for Wani and his associates. A report from Tral, his native town, said huge crowds are out on the streets yelling ‘we want freedom’ and preparing to perform the last rites of Wani.
Key separatist leaders including Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik were placed under house arrest to prevent them from relocating to Tral to attend the funeral of Wani or join the ‘prayers in absentia’ announced to be held in Srinagar and elsewhere in the Valley on Saturday.
The security forces’ officials termed Wani’s killing a “spectacular” win over the separatist militants in the Himalayan state and said that the same will have a demoralising impact on them. But octogenarian separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani who has called for a one day shutdown in Kashmir to mourn and protest against Wani’s killing said “the iconic mujahid’s martyrdom will give impetus to the push for azadi”.
Geelani who has been facing curbs on his movement for the last few months also announced three-day mourning in Kashmir and said “Every household will pay tributes to the Kashmiri brave-hearts for three days.” Rightwing all-women Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Faith) has, however, called for a three days strike in Kashmir from Saturday.
Wani, the Internet savvy poster boy of Kashmiri militancy, was a resident of Dadsara village of south Kashmir’s Tral area (Pulwama district) who days before he was to appear in his Class X examination left his home in 2010 to join the region’s frontline indigenous militant outfit Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
He soon rose to become its district commander and figured in the list of most wanted militants by the security forces combating a 27-year-old insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir which has already claimed thousands of lives including militants, security forces’ personal and unarmed civilians.
Wani’s father Muzaffar Ahmed Wani is a school principal who said in a recent interview, “He is on a pious path and we are proud of him.” Khalid, his elder son also was a militant who was shot dead by security forces in woods of Tral on April 13, 2015. The security forces had claimed that he was shot down in an “encounter” while trying to meet his brother Burhan.
Officials said that Burhan Wani and his associates were killed in a swift joint operation launched by the members of J&K police’s counterinsurgency Special Operations Group (SOG) from Srinagar and Anantnag and troops from Army’s 19 Rashtriya Rifles at Bamdoora, a remote village of Kokernag area.
One of the two other slain men Sartaj Ahmed Sheikh had after remaining active as a militant surrendered before security forces few years ago. But after his release from jail in 2014, he was recycled into militancy and joined the Hizb and was since closely working with Wani, police sources said.
Sources said that as the security forces after launching the operation on the basis of intelligence inputs and information gathered through the Internet zeroed in on a private house at Bamdoora being used by Wani and his associates as a makeshift hideout, Sartaj tossed a hand grenade at them but was quickly killed in their retaliatory fire.
A fierce encounter ensured between the remaining holed up militants and the SOG men who eventually used explosives and two landmines to blast the house resulting into the killing of the duo, the sources said. The third militant killed in the encounter identified as Masoom Ahmed Shah was a resident of Sri Gufwara in Anantnag.
The officials said that it was a “swift and clean” operation as the raiding party was knowing the exact location of the house on the Karkipora-Kokernag Road in which the militant commander and his associates were hiding. The house, they said, is owned by one Ghulam Muhammad Sheikh, maternal uncle of Sartaj. The operation was launched at 4.30 pm and was over by 7 pm on Friday, they added.