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Bank robberies in Kashmir: After numbers of incidents increase, locals call looters 'government gunmen'

A pallid looking 16-year-old Sameer Ahmad Dar had never experienced this: gunmen alighted from the car that screeched to halt outside his dairy store and asked him not to move. He had walked up to the road where dread overtook him as a speeding car slammed brakes and halted before him. Four gunmen came out from the vehicle and didn't allow him to move till they had run out from the Jammu and Kashmir Bank and climbed down the stairs with cash of near Rs 1.5 lakh and sped away.

In Kashmir, gunmen looting banks has emerged as a new phenomenon, but the police and the locals differ on their opinion on the men behind the attacks.

On Wednesday, at around 3:15 pm, gunmen looted the Nehama branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, where teenager Sameer looked awestruck. While the police have blamed the militants for the bank attacks, eyewitnesses of at least two bank robberies, which happened on Wednesday, said that it could have even been the handiwork of 'government gunmen'. Sameer said that four gunmen, who attacked the bank, were masked and only the driver had his face uncovered. "I don't know who these people were. They were all masked and I was terribly frightened and I felt like I escaped from the jaws of death,'' he said.

Though the police have blamed militants for both, the Nehama as well as earlier bank robberies, in a recent statement Hizbul Mujahidin said that "we didn't attack the vehicle with the intent to loot the cash." However, Hizbul, in the statement, claimed responsibility for the attack on policemen who were travelling in a bank van at Kulgam. "We have enough cash.''

A file photo of security personnel investigating a bank robbery in Pulwama district of south Kashmir on Wednesday. PTI

A file photo of security personnel investigating a bank robbery in Pulwama district of south Kashmir on Wednesday. PTI

Five policemen and two bank guards were killed on 1 May as militants engaged with the forces at Kulgam who were travelling in the van after depositing cash at one of the branches of Jammu and Kashmir Bank.

The attacks have, however, lead to further deterioration in the security scenario and increased lawlessness in Kashmir, which recently also witnessed the bypolls for the Anantang parliamentary seat being cancelled. On Wednesday, a few hours before gunmen struck the Nehama branch of Jammu and Kashmir Bank, they looted Rs 4.9 lakh from the Wahibug branch of Elaqahi Dehati (EDB) Bank. But even as the accounts of the police and the locals differ, lack of security is making the banks in the Valley vulnerable.

The EDB branch at Wahibug is manned by two people, including, Riyaz Ahmad Dar, an office assistant, who is the bank incharge. He said that he had not deposited the cash at the treasury as he was the only person at the bank to receive deposits. A day after militants looted the bank, EDB has stopped receiving deposits or even entertaining the request of customers to withdraw money.

A resident of Wahibug, Shabir Ahmad Dhobi, was told by the bank incharge that he can withdraw money at the Pulwama branch. An eyewitness to the bank robbery at Wahibug, Aijaz Ahmad Teli, said that at around 1: 40 pm on Wednesday, around 4 gunmen clad in pheran came to the bank and within few minutes managed to take away the cash. "I was sitting outside the shop when a Maruti car stopped and gunmen stormed out of the car and in the bank. They got two other shopkeepers from the adjacent shop to sit beside me and asked us not to move. While two gunmen stayed outside, three others went upstairs and came back with the cash. Within 10 minutes they had looted the bank and sped away,'' he said.

Ghulam Hassan Bhat, who runs an embroidery shop at Wahibug, said, "It could be anybody behind the attack. It could even government gunmen,'' he said.

Outside the Newa branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, Showkat Ahmad Bhat, who runs a garments shop, and who has an account in the bank, said that the bank has stopped receiving deposits or dispensing cash. " We are facing difficulties. We don't have even the ATM facility here,'' he said, and added, "People here have to travel two to three kilometers to withdraw the cash from some other bank.''

A police official at Kakpora police post, under which Newa branch of Jammu and Kashmir Bank falls, said that they have received an application from the bank authorities that some unidentified gunmen looted around Rs 1.4 lakh. "The only security the bank had a lone security guard," he said.

Updated Date: May 05, 2017 10:13 AM

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