Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Massive clashes have erupted in India-administered Kashmir following the killing of two rebels and a civilian in an early morning gun battle with Indian forces in the main city of Srinagar.
The police officials said a police officer was also killed in the violent clashes that broke out in the busy Fateh Kadal locality of Srinagar on the wee hours of Wednesday.
“On a specific information, cordon and search operation was launched at Fateh Kadal in Srinagar which turned into an encounter. Three militants were killed in the encounter. One policeman was also martyred,” the police said in a statement.
The state police chief Dilbagh Singh said the rebels were linked to the armed group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Fearing more protests, the authorities closed down schools and colleges in Srinagar as hundreds of paramilitary troopers were rushed to guard the streets.
Mobile internet services were also suspended to prevent the protests from spiralling across the restive Kashmir valley.
A top police officer told Al Jazeera that “the house owner misled us and said there were no militants hiding inside”.
“When police went inside, there was a heavy fire in which we lost one police. The two were militants and the third was their accomplice who was also the son of the house owner. He did not come out when the family came, so he was a part of them,” the official said.
‘Civilian, not a gunman’
People in the Fateh Kadal locality, where the gun battle took place, dismissed the police claim and identified the third person to be killed as Rayees Ahmad, a 30-year-old civilian.
They alleged Ahmad was “used as a human shield by the forces”.
“At 12am in the night, we were woken up by a knock on our door. It was the police. They took my brother-in-law and we do not know what happened to him. We hear he has been killed, but we have not been given the body yet,” Jan, 33, Ahmad’s sister-in-law, told Al Jazeera.
“We (women) were locked in one room, we were not even allowed to have water. It was a battle between life and death ’til morning,” she said.
Another resident told Al Jazeera that Ahmad worked with his father at his shop and was married with a baby girl.
“He was not a gunman. They kill anyone here they choose and call them terrorists. They have killed thousands like this and the world does not dare to question this bloodshed,” said 55-year-old Mahfooza Jan, a resident of Fateh Kadal.
Atif Ahmad, 25, a local youth, told Al Jazeera that the house where the gunfight took place was razed to the ground and two more houses suffered damages.
Following the killings, the region’s commercial hub was shut down, with many areas witnessing clashes between the stone-throwers and Indian forces.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a senior separatist leader who pitches for an independent state or a merger with Pakistan, termed the killings as “revenge”.
“Amidst a rejection by people, revenge and repression by authorities escalate. I strongly condemn the subjugation,” he said.
Journalists allege assault
Journalists covering the Wednesday morning gunfight alleged they were assaulted by the security forces.
“This is a norm for the forces to tell us what to do, but today, they beat many of us. We were covering the gunfight in a group and they kicked us and my equipment was damaged, too,” Ahmad, a photojournalist working with an Indian newspaper, told Al Jazeera.
“The forces did not let us take the pictures even when the gunfight was over. The officers were present there and no one stopped them from beating us.”
Kashmir Editors’ Guild (KED), a local editors group, condemned the attack on journalists in a statement.
“The police action on the ground suggests that the counter-insurgency establishment wishes to frighten the media and stop this institution from covering anything which the grid dislikes and take over the entire systems and processes,” the KED statement said.
“We strongly feel that the attack on journalists is aimed to send a strong signal to the media that any reportage contrary to the establishment point of view would be dealt with sternly,” it said.
Separatist leaders called for a complete shutdown in Kashmir on Thursday to protest the latest killings.
Kashmir has been in turmoil since July 2016 when a popular rebel commander Burhan Wani was killed in a gunfight.