Seven civilians died in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district Saturday when security forces allegedly opened fire at an unruly crowd that tried to storm the site of an encounter in which three militants and an Army man were killed, police said.
The 11 deaths took place after security forces laid siege to a locality in Sirnoo village following intelligence reports about the presence of three terrorists, including army deserter Zahoor Ahmad Thoker who belonged to the same village.
Several civilians were also injured in the firing that followed the encounter, officials said.
Political parties in Kashmir condemned the killings, saying Governor Satya Pal Malik-led administration has “failed” to secure people’s lives.
Authorities suspended mobile internet services in most parts of Kashmir, including Srinagar, to prevent escalation in tension following the deaths.
Local residents had thronged the encounter site after hearing that Zahoor Thoker was among the terrorists trapped there, police officials said.
Though the encounter ended in 25 minutes with the killing of the three terrorists, the security forces faced a tough time as people started climbing onto Army vehicles, they said.
Officials said warning shots were fired but that did not deter the mob, forcing the security forces to open fire at the civilians.
Seven civilians were killed and dozens injured, including a youth whose condition was said to be critical.
Thoker had gone missing from an army unit in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district in July last year.
He had decamped with his service rifle and three magazines and joined the terrorist ranks.
Security forces said Thoker was involved in several killings in Pulwama district.
The identities of two other terrorists were being ascertained.
Officials said an army jawan was killed in the gunfight and two other soldiers were in a critical condition.
“No probe enough to bring back the dead innocent civilians,” Peoples Democratic Party president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.
South Kashmir has been reeling under fear for the last 6 months. Is this what was expected from Gov rule?” she added. “No country can win a war by killing its own people,” she said in another tweet.
National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah questioned the way the operation was carried out.
“Any way you look at it this was a badly executed encounter. Protests around encounter sites are now the norm not the exception. Why are we unable to learn how to handle them better? “he tweeted.
“Another blood soaked weekend in Kashmir,” he said, tallying the deaths of protesters, terrorists and the jawan.
“The administration of Governor Malik has one task & one task only - to focus on the security of the people of J&K & restore peace to a troubled valley. Sadly it appears that’s the only thing the administration is not doing,” he tweeted.
Separatist-turned-politicians and former minister Sajad Lone said the administration needs to “seriously evaluate” the costs of such anti-militancy operations.
“If u end up killing 7 civilians in order to kill 3 militants. It is time for heads to roll. We can’t afford a state of impunity,” he tweeted.