By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
New Delhi, June 4: Until last year, the Central Kashmir district of Budgam enjoyed the reputation and distinction of being the valley’s first militant-free zone. With as many as seven selective killings in the last three months, it is now snatching away a dubious distinction from South Kashmir’s Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam besides the contiguous summer capital of Srinagar.
While three of the four South Kashmir districts are retaining the notoriety of being the valley’s terror havens without break since 1999, Srinagar has witnessed around 24 terror attacks, encounters and incidents of target killings in the last two years.
Some merciless killings in October 2021 — including that of the famous Pandit chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo, Sikh lady teacher Supinder Kaur and a reserved category teacher Deepak Chand of Jammu — spread a wave of fear ahead of the Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel killed in this chain of pistol attacks from behind included one Inspector of the Criminal Investigation Department and a young Probationary Sub Inspector. In the latest strike, two CRPF jawans were killed in a broad daylight attack from AK-47 rifles at Maisuma on April 4.
A week later, J&K Police and CRPF claimed to have killed both the assailants — both Pakistani cadres of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba — in an encounter at Bishamber Nagar in Srinagar.
No major militancy-related incident had taken place in Budgam district in the last 15-20 years, even as sporadic incidents like a BJP worker’s killing at Ompora, near Budgam Train Station, and a Block Development Council chairman’s killing in Khag, continued after long gaps.
The first incident of terror killing this year occurred on March 8 when a Territorial Army soldier Sameer Ahmad Malla, who had returned from Jammu with his wife after her delivery, was kidnapped killed and buried at a deserted place in his residential area of Khag. Three days later, his dead body was recovered from a pit. Malla was alleged to have been a driver with Army’s Major Gogoi when the latter got entangled in two controversies including taking a minor girl to a Srinagar hotel in objectionable circumstances.
Previously, BDC Khag chairman, Bhupinder Singh, was shot dead by terrorists in the same area of Khag, in upper Budgam, on 23 September 2020. Teacher Supinder Kaur was also a resident of Budgam district but she was killed in Srinagar.
Unidentified terrorists, who according to official sources were led by dreaded LeT commander Yusuf Kantroo, appeared at Gotapora, near Soibug, and shot dead a youth, Tajamul Mohiuddin Rather, at his home on March 21. Rather had reportedly associated himself with the local Army camp and helped the security forces openly in some counter-insurgency operations, though he had not been formally engaged for such task.
Five days later, on March 26, 2022, reportedly the same group of terrorists appeared at Chattabug, 2 km from Gotapora, and shot dead Special Police Officer Ashfaq Ahmad along with his brother Umar Jan. The twin murder evoked a huge response as thousands of the residents gathered, paid tributes to the slain duo, stood in solidarity with the traumatized family and condemned the brazen act of terror.
On April 19, a grenade attack on Budgam Police Station took place after more than 24 years of peace. However, it fell short of the target and failed to cause any damage.
Even as the Police and security forces killed Kantroo, one of the valley’s longest surviving militants who had reportedly escaped from 10 cordon-and-search operations, along with a fresh recruit, at Malwah, bordering Budgam and Baramulla districts in a fierce encounter on April 21, targeted killings continued in the district.
After Kantroo’s death in the encounter, the focus shifted to Chadoora Tehsil. Police and security forces claimed that two local militants, Lateef Rather and Aquib Shergujri, had revived LeT’s network in Chadoora-Pulwama belt. The first killing in that area this year happened on 12 May when Rahul Bhat, a displaced Kashmiri Pandit employed under Prime Minister’s special rehabilitation package in 2010, was gunned down at his Tehsil office at Chadoora.
On May 25, unidentified terrorists barged into the residence of the famous TV artist, YoutTuber, singer and Vlogger Amreen Bhat (36) at Hushroo, Chadoora, and shot her dead. A day later, Police and security forces claimed to have killed “both of her killers” in an encounter near Awantipora.
On June 2, two masked terrorists appeared at a brick kiln at Magraypora, Chadoora, and shot dead a Bihari worker Dikkhush while another non-local worker was left injured in the pistol attack.
A senior Police officer said that almost all the 4-5 active terrorists had been identified and a process to identify their over-ground workers was still underway. “We successfully traced Amreen Bhat’s killers and kept a track on their passage with the help of the Army from Chadoora to Pulwama and eliminated them in an encounter. We have already wiped Kantroo along with his module which operated between Baramulla and Budgam. We are hopeful to bring the killers of other terror victims to justice shortly”, he asserted.
Meanwhile Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Friday chaired a high-level security review meeting on Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of a series of targeted killings in the Union Territory.
Present security arrangements, as well as the preparedness for Amarnath Yatra, were discussed in the marathon meeting which lasted for about three hours, said official sources. In the first session, the Home Minister took stock of security situations in the Valley while the second session of the meeting was linked to the preparedness for Amarnath Yatra as the annual pilgrimage is all set to start on June 30 after a gap of two years.
The meeting, which began around 3 pm, continued till 6 pm in two sessions in the presence of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Army Chief Manoj Pande, Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Jammu and Kashmir and Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.
Director-General of Central Reserve Police Force Kuldeep Singh and Border Security Force chief Pankaj Singh, Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh among other key officials took part in the meeting.
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