India: Mysterious Killings Prompt Kashmir Valley Shutdown

By Adeel Shah
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150617-kashmir-sopore-620 Indian paramilitaries guard shuttered shops in Srinagar, Kashmir, June 17, 2015.

Shops, businesses and schools across the Kashmir Valley observed a complete shutdown on Wednesday to protest a series of mysterious killings in Sopore, a town in North Kashmir, over the past few weeks.

The shutdown, called by various Kashmiri separatist groups, forced buses off streets in Srinagar and other cities and towns in the region.

On Tuesday, state police posted pictures of two alleged members of the outlawed militant group Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), who they said were responsible for killing six people.

State authorities have announced a 1 million-rupee ($15,649) reward for information leading to the arrests of the suspects, identified as Qayoom Najar and Imtiyaz Ahmad Kundoo.

“There is a new faction of HM, and they have started targeting the separatists,” Gareeb Das, the deputy inspector general of police in Baramulla, told BenarNews.

On the outskirts of Sopore on Monday, unidentified gunmen killed Ajaz Ahmad, a former militant.

The spree of killings in the town started after an unknown group, Lashkar-e-Islam, asked local telecom operators to wind up their operations last month. Since then, six civilians have been killed in separate incidents.

“We have stepped up security to neutralize them,” Das said of the new HM faction.

Uneasy calm

Streets in Sopore were largely empty, and youths were seen throwing stones at the security forces.

Interviews with townspeople revealed deep resentment toward the authorities for failing to catch the killers. Many residents blamed the “Indian agencies” – not militants – for the spate of killings.

"I am not ready to accept that militants are doing it because they have a strong base here and they cannot take the risk to go against the people,” Sopore businessman Ali Mohammed told BenarNews.

“It is a game of the agencies and they want to put this restive town on the boil," he added.

Kashmir is a region disputed by India and Pakistan, both of which control a part of it. In the 1990s, an armed resistance broke out against Indian rule.

According to human rights organizations, the conflict has since claimed more than 50,000 lives.

Another local resident, teacher Khursheed Ahmad, said the government had failed to provide people with adequate protection.

“How is it possible that a few militants can go from one place to another and kill anyone they want,” he said.

“There is something fishy in these attacks. The government should take some steps to trace the people behind these acts.”

The families of the victims also blamed “agencies” for the killings of their loved ones.

Tariq Ahmad, whose brother was killed Saturday by “unidentified gunmen,” said security personnel were present nearby when the shooting occurred.

“Indian agencies are behind the killing of my brother,” Ahmad told BenarNews. “It is not possible that anyone can kill my brother when police personnel were near him.”

‘All-out measures’

When contacted by BenarNews, security and intelligence agencies declined to comment on the accusations.

However, on Wednesday Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed asked security agencies to arrest the killers.

“The Chief Minister expressed concern over the targeted killings of civilians in Sopore, and emphasized taking all-out measures to avoid the recurrence of such incidents in the future,” a spokesman quoted Sayeed as saying during a meeting of the Unified Headquarters.

“The security agencies assured that all-out efforts would be made to apprehend those who are responsible for these dastardly acts,” he added.

While the police blame the HM outfit for the killings, the group has denied the charge, saying it was the handiwork of the Indian agencies.

“We are sure that such acts are done by the government. Sopore and Islamabad (Anantnag) are considered as strong forts of Kashmir’s freedom movement and agencies have made these forts as their prime target,” HM chief Syed Salahudin, who is based in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, told a local news agency on Monday.


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