December 2017 News

Kin Claim Soldiers Shot Valley Youth Outside Home, Army Says Crossfire

17 December 2017
The Indian Express
Bashaarat Masood

Srinagar: On Saturday night, 23-year-old Asif Iqbal Bhat received a call from his neighbour. The caller was stuck about 5 km from their neigbourhood as public transport was unavailable and wanted Asif to pick him up. Asif, a taxi driver, replied that he cannot come. But when his father Mohammad Iqbal Bhat asked him to go, Asif left his home in Thindipora village of Kupwara. He was killed by an Army bullet soon after. While the Army says he was a killed in crossfire, his family has alleged that the soldiers fired at him without warning as soon as he stepped out. The J&K government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the killing. 'They (Army) are lying,' said Asif's younger brother Majid. 'He was shot just outside our home. How could they have suspected him of being a militant?' 'As soon as he stepped out, we heard gunshots. When my father went out, they (soldiers) fired towards our house,' said Majid. 'My father found him on the ground, bleeding from his head.' The Army has said Asif was killed in crossfire and that a probe is on. 'Based on information of presence of militants in Thindipora village, Army placed ambushes to maintain surveillance over the area on night of 16-17 December,' Defence spokesman Col Rajesh Kalia said. 'At around 2255 hours, (an) ambush party observed suspicious movement of three persons near a nallah in Thindipora village. The individuals were challenged by the troops. However, they didn't respond. Thereafter, terrorists opened fire towards Army ambush, which was retaliated to. In the crossfire, one person, later identified as Asif Iqbal Bhat, was killed due to gunshot wound. It is learnt that he was a Sumo taxi driver. Investigations are in progress.' Mohammad Umar, a neighbour of Asif, said he was on the first floor of his house when he heard gunshots. 'There were gunshots and seconds later I heard his (Asif's) father wailing.' Asif was rushed to a health centre at Kralpora, about 5 km away. After being administered first aid, he was referred to Sopore. He succumbed on the way. His father is a forest guard while mother is a homemaker. He was the eldest of three brothers and also had two sisters. The state government has registered an FIR and ordered a magisterial inquiry. 'We have ordered a probe into the killing,' Deputy Commissioner, Kupwara, Khalid Jehangir told The Indian Express. 'The Additional Commissioner Revenue has been asked to probe the incident and submit report within 21 days.' Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed grief over the killing and asked district administration to 'speed up the probe'. Opposition National Conference said an 'un-investigated claim of a young life lost in 'cross-firing' shouldn't be used to brush the incident under the carpet'. When the body was brought to Asif's home, it triggered protests in Thindipora and adjoining villages. Security personnel fired teargas shells to disperse the protesters.