Security forces in Indian Kashmir gunned down three suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants in Kupwara district on Wednesday and a stray bullet killed an 8-year-old girl, police said.
The girl, Kaniza Fatima, was killed, and her brother, Faisal Ahmad, 6, was injured by gunfire near the site of the encounter close to the Line of Control (LoC), a de facto border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan, police said. A police officer also was wounded.
The slain suspects were identified as Pakistani nationals Abu Malla, Abu Mansoor and Ans Bahi, Senior Superintendent of Police Shamsher Hussain told BenarNews.
“We launched a search operation in Kupwara’s Jugtiyal village this morning after receiving information that militants were holed up in a house there. The militants opened fire and after an exchange of fire that lasted over six hours, we managed to eliminate them,” Hussain said.
Kashmir, a Himalayan region claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan, has been grappling with a separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
This was the second time in a week that children lost their lives after being caught in crossfire between suspected militants and security forces.
Last Thursday, Amir Nazir, 15, died in a similar fashion during a shootout between government forces and suspected militants in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Jalal-ud-Din, another civilian, also died the same day following a massive heart attack while trying to escape police action on anti-India protesters. Two suspected LeT members were killed in that encounter.
Since the beginning of 2016, nearly 100 encounters between militants and security forces have taken place in Indian Kashmir. About 150 suspected militants were killed and more than 75 arrested during these encounters. About 60 Indian security personnel lost their lives in these fire fights.
Protests erupted in several localities of Kupwara after news spread that a minor girl had been killed by police gunfire. However, no casualties were reported in the protests.
While blaming Indian security forces for using excessive force, Kupwara resident Mohammad Ashraf said the girl’s life “could have been saved had police exercised a bit of restraint.”
“Surely, the operation to eliminate or arrest the suspects might have taken longer, but at least innocent lives can be saved if Indian forces calm down and practice restraint,” Ashraf told BenarNews.