Sameer Bhat, alias Tiger, an A++ category militant who shot to fame after his photo with an American M-4 carbine used by special forces in Afghanistan went viral on social media, has been gunned down in an encounter with security forces in the volatile south Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Monday afternoon along with his associate Aqib Wani. Both hailed from Pulwama.
Sameer, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander who is believed to be behind the killing of senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Patel, had been active since March 2016, when he was released from police custody. Patel was shot dead in broad daylight in Rajpora village last week.
A top police officer said Tiger was arrested on 24 March, 2016 on charges of stone-pelting but was released on 29 March, “He was a chronic stone-pelter and an over ground worker of the Hizbul Mujahideen. After his release from the custody, he joined Hizbul Mujahideen but had been lately flirting with Jaish-e-Mohammad,” he said.
Officials said the reasons from his switching over to Jaish remain unclear. However, Sameer, who was tech-savvy with his photos and videos doing the rounds on social media on a regular basis, had upset the Hizb leadership who had warned him against posting such moves. “He was a hot-headed boy and maybe he may have parted ways because of that,” he said.
At the site of the encounter in south Kashmir's Pulwama district, a 14-year-old civilian was also killed while 15 others were injured, five of them seriously. Police officials said two army soldiers, including a Major were also wounded in the initial exchange of fire with militants. The clash took place after forces launched a search operation following inputs about the presence of militants there.
“A joint team of Army, police and paramilitary surrounded the area but they (militants) fired indiscriminately at them, resulting in injuries to three Army soldiers who were rushed to the Army’s base hospital in Srinagar in a critical state,” a senior Army officer said. He said additional forces were dispatched to the area to prevent militants from escaping.
Hundreds of people, including women and children, poured into the area as soon as the news of the encounter spread and raised anti-India and pro-freedom slogans. The protesters then pelted stones at the forces in an attempt to distract them and help the militants in escaping.
“A CRPF vehicle parked in the area was set ablaze by the mob but there was no loss of life or injury to any personnel during the incident,” the Army officer said.
Nazir Bhat, a resident of the adjoining Aklad village who had gone to the encounter site, told Firstpost over phone that the police fired teargas and pellets to push back the protesting crowds and continue the operation, “The forces initially fired aerial shots to disperse the protesters and when this does not work, they fired directly at the protesters,” sources said.
A senior doctor in Pulwama said at least 15 protesters had suffered pellet and bullet injuries, of whom five were referred to Srinagar for specialised treatment. Two of them were in a critical state, “Shahid Ahmad, a resident of Arihal village, was brought to Pulwama district hospital, where he succumbed,” Abdul Rashid Para, medical superintendent of Pulwama hospital said.
Police said two militants, Sameer Bhat alias Tiger and his associate Aaqib Wani, both residents of Pulwama, were killed in the encounter. Their bodies are being handed over to their family members for burial. Sameer, according to police, was involved in a number of attacks on political activists and security forces in the area.
“Our forces are carrying out a mopping operation in the area. A search operation is also going on,” SSP Pulwama, Mohammad Aslam said, adding that the situation has been brought under control after the killing of Hizbul militants.
Anticipating protests, authorities have snapped mobile internet service in south Kashmir districts while the rail service, which is used by thousands of commuters every day, has also been suspended for the day to prevent any harm to passengers. Tensions are swelling in the area with additional forces deployed to contain the situation. Large crowds of men and women have gathered at the residence of the slain militants and the civilian to participate in their last rites.
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Updated Date: Apr 30, 2018 19:39:58 IST