Anantnag encounter: To entrap LeT commander Bashir Ahmad Wani, Kashmir Police played the long game
The Kashmir Police was waiting for an opportunity when Lashkar would have fewer chances of fleeing with the civilians not being anywhere close. That moment came on Saturday morning.
Since Bashir Ahmad Wani alias Lashkar orchestrated the killing of six policemen in an ambush on 16 June, Kashmir Police had been working round the clock day to nab the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant. Lashkar had been in and out of militancy often in 18 years, but had become active in the last 21 months. Security forces had cornered him around a dozen times but he always managed to give them a slip.
Despite being a master player with the forces, Lashkar could not survive more than fifteen days after he led the attack against six policemen. SHO Firoz Dar, a resident of Pulwama, was among the casualties when Lashkar with other militants resorted to indiscriminate firing.
Police officers in Anantnag said from the day of the attack, a network of informers and counter-insurgency wing of the Kashmir Police was keeping a close watch on Lashkar's movements. They were waiting for an opportunity when Lashkar would have fewer chances of fleeing with the civilians not being anywhere close. That moment came on Saturday morning.
“It was a great challenge,” said Muneer Ahmad Khan, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir range, adding, “we worked round the clock”.
However, things took an ugly turn when the forces, who had cordoned off a cluster of houses in Dialgam village, realised that the number of civilians trapped inside the houses near the site where Lashkar was holed up, exceeded their expectations. Altogether four people were trapped along with Lashkar and his aide. Though there were attempts to break the cordon, the forces managed to keep the people at bay.
The army officer said Lashkar was followed for hours before he was cornered on Saturday. “It was not an easy operation,” the army officer said, “ Had there been no civilian he would have been killed in one hour, but we waited till the civilians including the four were rescued.”
A video circulate on the social media showed when Lashkar got trapped, he asked local boys for help but that call failed to yield any results.
While the encounter was on, hundreds of civilians thronged the site to help the militants escape, while others kept looking for their loved ones in the neighbouring houses. Eyewitnesses say more than 50 people were trapped in the houses adjoining the house were Lashkar was holed up.
Tahira Begam, a 42-year-old woman, whose teenaged son was trapped near the encounter site, argued with forces for hours to get her son out, but they refused. She was part of the protests later and lost her life. Another young man was hit by a bullet in the neck and succumbed to his injuries in a Srinagar hospital.
Lashkar, a resident of Sopshali area of Kokernag in South Kashmir, was a category A++ militant and district commander of LeT for Anantnag. Although security agencies said he had a history of being either an OWG or a militant group sympathiser, he was last recruited by the LeT on 2 October, 2015.
Lashkar studied till Class IX and was first recruited in 1999 when the insurgency had ebbed in the state. At that time, Hizbul Mujahideen was almost missing from the Valley but the LeT had dozens of militants spread over south Kashmir. In 2002, Achabal police arrested him in Anantnag for the possession of arms. He was later released in 2005 after being granted bail.
In 2009, he again became active and was arrested with arms and ammunition in 2010 in Bijbehra before being released in 2014. During that time, the security forces kept a close watch on his activities and he was continuously asked to appear at police stations. In October 2015, he joined the LeT and started operating as their district commander for Anantnag.
“It was a concerted effort by different agencies and justice has been done. He was no ordinary terrorist. He had done everything from killing people to looting banks,” DGP SP Vaid said.
Lashkar was among the 12 most wanted militants in Kashmir and the third one to die after the army published the list of militants in the first week of June.
Imtiyaz Hussain, Senior Superintendent of Police in Baramulla district, was more direct in a tweet. “RIP Feroz. Justice delivered. Wish good sense prevails and there are no more killings in Kashmir and we all live in peace,” Hussain tweeted.
Sources in the army say efforts are on to neutralise the twelve most wanted militants first and then deal with the others who are “less lethal”.
“I think by the end of August all them would be killed,” a senior army officer told Firstpost on Saturday. “The 12 militants are way more dangerous than the rest of them put together,” he added.
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