Indian troops in Indian-administered Kashmir killed a top rebel commander in a gun battle and another fighter, sparking violent protests that resulted in the death of at least one civilian.
Abu Dujana, a senior leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group, was killed early on Tuesday by government troops in Harkipora village of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
Pulwama resident and fighter Arif Ahmed was also killed.
“The target house was cordoned and the fighters were requested to surrender, but they preferred to fight … two fighters belonging to Lashkar-e-Taiba were killed including Abu Dujana,” Munir Khan, Kashmir police chief, told Al Jazeera.
Abu Dujana, a resident of Gilgit Baltistan, had a bounty of $23,000 on his head. India blames the LeT group for a 2008 attack that left 166 people dead in India’s Mumbai.
As the gunbattle raged, residents defied the security lockdown and clashed with government forces near the site of the battle in an attempt to help the trapped fighters escape, according to police.
A civilian, Firdous Ahmad, was killed and dozens of others were injured in the violence.
Khan said Ahmad was caught in crossfire.
But residents and doctors told Al Jazeera that the troops fired shotgun pellets and tear gas and blocked roads with razor wire and steel barricades.
“The encounter was going on, people from various villages assembled at the site and forces directly opened fire in which [Firdous Ahmad] was hit on his face [and] died on the spot,” Muhammad Yusuf, a resident of Pulwama, told Al Jazeera.
“How can we give up protests, when there is so much blood being spilled here? They don’t differentiate between a civilian and a militant, everyone meets the same fate.”
At least 17 people are being treated for injuries following the protests.
“Four of them were hit in their eyes with either pellets or teargas shells. Three people are in critical condition,” Nazir Chowdhary, a doctor at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS), told Al Jazeera.
Fearing more tension, the government has suspended mobile internet in Kashmir.
“The internet has been shut as a precautionary measure so that the anti-national elements and terrorists don’t take the advantage of the situation,” police chief Khan said.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety.
Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Indian-administered portion to become independent or merge with Pakistan.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
India maintains roughly 500,000 soldiers in the territory.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep among Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population and most support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule despite a decades-long military crackdown to fight the armed rebellion.
India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.
Rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years and public opposition to Indian rule is now principally expressed through street protests.