Indian forces have killed five suspected rebels in stepped-up operations in Indian-administered Kashmir, police say.
The five people were killed in two separate operations that started on Saturday night in Pulwama and Budgam districts, police said on Sunday, adding that the dead included a top commander of the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) armed group and a Pakistani national.
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“We had launched two separate operations on the basis of inputs about the presence of militants in these areas last night. Five militants, including JeM commander, Zahid Wani, and a Pakistani national, Kafeel, were killed,” the region’s police chief Vijay Kumar said.
For the past two years, police in Indian-administered Kashmir have buried the bodies of rebels secretly in remote graveyards, refusing to give them to their families to avoid large funeral processions or protests.
But the family of Inayat Ahmad Mir, one of the four people killed in Pulwama, said he was not a rebel but an innocent teenager. The family on Sunday protested outside the police headquarters in Srinagar, demanding the authorities should return Mir’s body for a proper burial.
“He is innocent and had nothing to do with militancy,” one of the protesting relatives was heard in a video of the protest shared on social media.
“For God’s sake, we want his body. How can he become a militant within a day?”
The police claim Mir was a “hybrid militant” who was killed along with the other rebels hiding inside his house in Pulwama’s Naira village.
During a news conference on Sunday, police chief Kumar said Mir had “joined the terror fold recently”. He said the police will also book Mir’s father under anti-terror laws for “providing shelter” to the rebels.
Mir’s relative said the police detained his elder brother Naveed on Sunday morning. In the evening, police also tweeted a video purportedly showing Mir’s sister saying her brother had refused to come out of the house when it was being evacuated by the security forces.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s foreign ministry has condemned the latest violence and called for international accountability for the “extra-judicial killing of five Kashmiris”. It condemned what it called India’s insinuation that a Pakistani fighter had been killed.
“The Indian occupation forces are known to kill innocent Kashmiris passing them off as ‘alleged militants’,” the ministry said in a statement.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, which they claim in full but rule over parts of.
India accuses Pakistan of backing an armed rebellion in Indian-administered Kashmir that has simmered since the late 1980s. Pakistan denies the allegation and says it offers political support to the residents in India’s only Muslim-majority region.
Indian police said 21 rebels have been killed this month, including eight Pakistani nationals. The Pakistani ministry said 23 Kashmiris had been killed.
“In their unabated reign of terror, the Indian occupation forces have martyred at least 23 Kashmiris in fake ‘encounters’ and so-called cordon-and-search operations in the month of January alone,” the ministry said.
Kumar declined to comment on Pakistan’s statement but said Indian forces launched their operation after the suspected rebels killed a police officer on Saturday outside his home in the south of Srinagar.
Last year, Indian-administered Kashmir saw a wave of killings of civilians, with rebels targeting migrant workers and members of the minority Hindu and Sikh communities in the valley.
Indian forces in the heavily militarised region responded with a widespread crackdown. More than 189 rebels were killed in the region last year, police said.