Decapitated body of abducted local youth found in Kashmir's Hajin as fresh wave of terror grips village; LeT denies role
LeT denied its alleged role in the beheading of Manzoor Ahmad Bhat and said it had launched an internal probe.
Hajin, Kashmir: On Sunday morning, Abdul Gaffar Bhat was surrounded by mourners on the second storey of his house in Bonikhan, Hajin, as he kept dragging puffs from a hookah (hubble-bubble) placed near him. Suddenly, he stood up and walked towards the street outside, crying out loudly.
"Haya myani Mana (my son Manzoor), wala aseha tchalo. Ho myani gobra, ba kas trowthas? (Oh my son, lets run away together. Why have you left me here?)," he shouted towards a vast, empty field, where his son had disappeared into the darkness after he was allegedly abducted by unknown gunmen on Thursday night.
Faint cries emerged from a tent erected for mourners in the courtyard of the house. On Thursday, at around 11:30 pm, two gunmen had appeared in the house and asked for Manzoor Ahmad Bhat. They then ordered the family to switch off the lights. The militants dragged Manzoor out of bed and took his father also with them. Then they locked away his sister and mother in one room and took away the father-son duo.
As they walked a few meters ahead, one of the militants, who was holding Gaffar's hand, tripped. Manzoor ran but militants fired at him. He was hit in the abdomen. Fifteen hours later, his headless body was found in an orchard, some two kilometres from his house.
Manzoor, 22, a shepherd, had purchased a flock of sheep recently. He was herding them in a dense forest a few kilometres from the human habitation. His friend, Zahoor Ahmad Parry, also a shepherd, said they lived happily for a week in the forests, cooking food and enjoying each other's company.
Then one evening recently, Manzoor's father called, asking him to return home because he was missing him. "We were childhood friends and his death has shaken me. I will never go back with the stock to the mountains," Parry said.
"We have no idea who was behind the killing because people who abducted my son were wearing masks," Gaffar, 57, said.
Many theories, some of them as absurd as grotesque, are doing the rounds on the streets about the beheading. The police blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for the killing. Manzoor was tortured before being killed; his back was charred and marks of torture, including bruises and cuts, scarred his body; the first finger on his right hand was chopped off and his body was dumped in an orchard. This was the second killing in a week in Hajin and the third in seven months by suspected militants.
However, Pakistan-based militant group LeT, which is active in the area, denied its alleged role in the beheading of the youth and said it had launched an internal probe. Mahmood Shah, LeT chief, said in a statement that the organisation "strongly condemns the brutal killing of Manzoor" and termed the act as "shameful and inhumane".
The village of Hajin, surrounded by large swathes of fields and the Jhelum river, was once home to the dreaded Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon, a home-bred counter-insurgency militia operating mainly out of Bandipora and its adjoining areas.
Feared by the local populace for their brutality, Ikhwanis, as they came to be known, enjoyed complete impunity. They didn't exist on paper, so their crimes — ranging from rape to extortion and murder — went unpunished; the status bestowed on them by the security grid included the factor of complete deniability. When the horrors of these men came to the light, no one owned them.
But such time is long gone now. As local newspapers splashed headlines of the murder, the town returned to normalcy, as if nothing had happened. The pro-government former militia personnel have turned into militancy sympathisers but the brutality which was once carried out by them has now found its parallel in the acts by militants crisscrossing the villages in their search for their hideouts.
In the early 1990s, the elders in the Valley would quickly report that a murder had been committed somewhere. But as killings and funerals become a common phenomenon in the region, the barbarity inflicted upon two men in this village has hardly found any sympathisers.
A young college student, whose cousin was among the first to be killed recently at the hands of security forces, said that they are "mukhbirs" (informers). "But no one has any proof. It is all in whispers and rumours," the student, who didn't want to be named, said.
Last year in August, when the headless body of 24-year-old Muzaffar Parray, a known pro-freedom activist, was found near river Jhelum, it not only shook Hajin but the entire Kashmir. His body was found with both hands tied with a rope behind the torso. The LeT blamed Indian forces, but police officials claimed that it was the militants who had killed Muzaffar.
On 2 April, unknown gunmen appeared at Muzaffar's house again. They were looking for his brother-in-law, Naseer Ahmad Sheikh, 22, a driver, who had come on a visit to his in-laws and had stayed the night.
They dragged Naseer out of his bed. The armed militants insisted that he accompany them but the Parrays wouldn't let them take him. The militants then pulled him out after a tussle with the family, in which Naseer's father-in-law, mother-in-law and wife were grievously hurt. Fifteen hours later, Naseer's body was found in a dry stream with a gunshot wound.
"He was playing cricket earlier in the day and then went to his in-laws' house later. No one knows who they (militants) were. The next day, he was found dead," Naseer's father, Ghulam Nabi, said.
A disturbing silence has taken over the Valley following the two killings. While the mainstream politicians and separatists have started a blame game, hardly anyone has condemned the murder. And a pervasive fear has gripped the area, once known for being home to counterinsurgents.
"We live in a dangerous time. Earlier, the gunmen who came to your home were known. Now, if you stop someone from taking away your son, they will kill your entire family. This all happens in the night and you can't blame anyone," a mourner at Naseer's house, said.
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