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As darkness falls, AK-47 rings in ears: Family of civilians killed in Kashmir living a nightmare

The Print logo The Print 02-05-2022 Ananya Bhardwaj

Srinagar: Each time there is a slight murmur, the door shuts, utensils clang or the wind blows through the trees, Jana Begum gets startled and runs to the main door of her house, suspecting that someone has entered.

Just over a month ago, at around 7 pm on 26 March, two terrorists, armed with an AK-47, barged into Jana Begum’s house in Budgam’s Chattabugh village, dragged out two of her four sons, Ishfaq and Umar, and shot them at point blank range. The sight of her sons bleeding to death has not left her eyes, which barely remain dry for more than a few moments at a time.

“Maine khudaya insaf dein (Oh Allah! Give me justice)” is all Jana Begum says, almost like chanting a mantra.

Mohammad Ishfaq Dar (25), the older of Jana Begum’s two sons killed last month, worked as a special police officer (SPO) and had been preparing for an exam to join the ranks of J&K Police as a sub-inspector. The exam was scheduled for 27 March, the day after he was murdered.

The younger son, Mohammed Umar Dar (22), was a student. To fund his education, he ran a small business, printing periodic table charts for schools.

A periodic table chart printed by Mohammad Umar Dar to help fund his education | Praveen Jain | ThePrint © Provided by The Print A periodic table chart printed by Mohammad Umar Dar to help fund his education | Praveen Jain | ThePrint Mohammad Umar Dar’s niece stands next to a periodic table chart he printed and sold to help fund his education | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Jana Begum has two more sons, one of them a constable, and the other an SPO, before the killings.

The family has received an amount of Rs 10 lakh as compensation from the government and Rameez Raja, the brother who SPO, has been promoted to the rank of a constable.

This is not a one-off case of targeted killing in the Kashmir Valley. Between October 2021 and 23 April 2022, over 23 civilians have been killed in terror attacks here. Two civilians were shot dead in the Valley just in the past week.

According to J&K Police data, 17 of the 23 civilians were local residents, including sarpanches, and six “outsiders”, people from other parts of the country who either worked as labourers in fields or construction sites, or in shops as helpers. All of the killings have been carried out by The Resistance Front, an arm of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), police sources say.

 

Also Read: Valley terrorist count down below 150, target is to go under 100 by year-end, says IGP Kashmir

‘Terrified of darkness’

For the Dar family, this spate of killings is a reality they cannot escape. As night falls, the sound of bullets that killed their loved ones rings loud in the ears of Jana Begum and her family.

Ishfaq and Umar's father Ghulam Mohammad Dar sitting outside their home | Praveen Jain | ThePrint © Provided by The Print Ishfaq and Umar's father Ghulam Mohammad Dar sitting outside their home | Praveen Jain | ThePrint Ishfaq and Umar’s father Ghulam Mohammad Dar sitting outside their home | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Ghulam Mohammad Dar, Jana Begum’s husband and father of the men who were killed, has not slept in so many days that the family has lost count. Sitting in a corner at the entrance, he waits for his sons to return.

“We cannot sleep in this house. If we do, we get nightmares. Our relatives are coming over to sleep here as the slightest sound terrifies us. Look at these gunshot marks on our bathroom door, our kitchen,” says Ishfaq and Umar’s brother Rameez Raja.

“The sound of those bullets, screaming, is so fresh… it resonates in our ears every night,” he adds, pointing to the bullet marks.

Raja pointing to the bullet marks | Praveen Jain | ThePrint © Provided by The Print Raja pointing to the bullet marks | Praveen Jain | ThePrint Rameez Raja pointing to the bullet marks | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

The family is still struggling to fathom why the two brothers were targeted.

“Ishfaq, who was an SPO, also worked as a gardener. In fact, he had been on a one-year leave to prepare for a stenographer’s exam. He was also preparing for the exam of sub-inspector in the J&K Police. Why would they kill him?” Rameez wonders.

He holds up Ishfaq’s books, sports certificates and medals, including those from a karate championship and Kalaripayattu (martial art that originated in Kerala).

“What about Umar, what was his fault? He was just a student,” Rameez lamented.

Raja showing Ishfaq’s certificates | Praveen Jain | ThePrint © Provided by The Print Raja showing Ishfaq’s certificates | Praveen Jain | ThePrint Rameez and family showing Ishfaq’s certificates and medals | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Asked about that fateful evening, Rameez recalls that Ishfaq put up a “brave fight” and even tried to snatch the weapon from the terrorist’s hands.

“Ishfaq first tried to lock himself up in a room, but they kicked it open. He then pounced on the two of them and tried to snatch their weapon, but they kicked him and shot him in the face. They then dragged Umar to the gate and shot him five to six times in front of my mother,” Rameez says.

“She (Jana Begum) has been quiet since this incident. She has only been crying, and taking Allah’s name. My father has gone completely quiet. It is not easy to see two young sons getting killed so mercilessly,” he adds.

The Resistance Front, LeT behind killings

According to police sources, officials suspect that The Resistance Front has been using ‘hybrid terrorists’ to carry out these attacks.

Some in the J&K Police believe that referring to LeT operatives as TRF operatives is simply an attempt by Pakistan to deem these killings as signs of an “insurgency”.

“The handlers in Pakistan want to show that this is some sort of an insurgency brewing in Kashmir. TRF is nothing but LeT, but Pakistan does not want to associate itself with these attacks or killings. Hence, it has given the outfit an indigenous colour,” Inspector General of Police in Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, tells ThePrint.

Of the 23 killings since October, seven were carried out by ‘hybrid terrorists’ and 16 by individuals identified as terrorists, police data accessed by ThePrint shows.

‘Pistols from Pakistan’

Police data shows that in 16 of these 23 attacks, terrorists used 9 mm pistols with a .313 bullet. AK-47s was used in five attacks, and grenades in at least two instances.

“The pistols are all coming from Pakistan. In all these pistols, the name of the maker is scratched off. They all come in small batches through drones and also by road,” IGP Kumar says.

“The local recruitment of hybrid terrorists, of whom we do not have any record, is on the rise and they are mostly using pistols to target civilians. Some are even using AK-47s,” he adds.

J&K Police admit that the spate of civilian killings poses a major challenge to the prospect of normalcy in the Kashmir Valley.

“To attack soft targets like civilians, including locals and outsiders, unarmed policemen, and personnel on their way home for a holiday is a desperate attempt by terrorists. They want to create a scare, make headlines,” says Kumar.

“Since they are unable to target security forces, they are killing civilians. It definitely is a challenge, and we are working on it. The number of encounters and operations have increased manifold and we are hitting them hard,” he adds.

‘Pushing back with all might’

While the picture looks grim, the J&K Police and security forces deployed in the Kashmir Valley are pushing back with all their might.

Security forces have killed at least 62 terrorists in the Kashmir Valley in the last four months. Of them, 39 had ties to the LeT, 15 were linked to Jaish-e-Mohammed, six to the Hizbul Mujahideen and two to Al-Badr.

Police data shows that of 20 of the terrorists killed in the Valley this year were suspects in the targeted killings. Three have also been arrested in connection with the attacks.

“We are conducting operations on a daily basis. Every day there is an encounter somewhere or the other, which means we are pushing back with all our might and they realise that,” IGP Kumar says.

“Because of these encounters, none of the big leaders from any of the terror outfits is now left in the Valley. Some secondary commanders are left, whom we expect to catch soon. Right now, most of these terror outfits are fragmented,” he explains.

“The newly recruited men are not very well trained. They are doing all this in desperation. Kashmir is not responding the way it used to, and this is what is bothering them,” the IGP continues.

“Local support to these terrorists also has decreased considerably. We hope to bring down the number of terrorists in the Valley significantly by the end of this year,” he adds.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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