Army denies its troops killed him, says they fired in air in self defence

While a tense situation prevailed in the Baramulla district after a youth was shot dead allegedly by the Army, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah made a strong case for the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 with his emotional speech in the Legislative Assembly and directed the police to book officers of the Rashtriya Rifles for murder.

The Deputy Commissioner of Baramulla, Ghulam Ahmad Khwaja, told The Hindu that the police have registered a murder case against the officers of Rashtriya Rifles 46th battalion, who had earlier on Tuesday evening opened fire on a group of youth, killing a 25-year-old Tahir Ahmad Sofi of Kakkar Hamam. Another civilian escaped with gunshot wounds.

The Army has however denied the allegation and said the troops fired in air in self defence “to extricate themselves” and claimed someone else shot dead Mr. Sofi “with a view to trigger large scale violence.”

Quoting official reports, Mr. Khwaja said two Army vehicles drove across the Jhelum river in downtown Baramulla at a time when a shutdown sponsored by the separatists was in place, but there was no reports of violence.

Quoting eyewitnesses, Mr. Khwaja said some youngsters pelted the Army vehicles with stones as a result of which the soldiers came down and chased them away. “I have reasons to believe that the firing was unprovoked and unwarranted. Unfortunately, one 25-year-old Tahir Ahmad Sofi died and another got injured. As there was no law and order problem and the Army’s action does not appear to be justified in any manner. The police have registered a murder case on my direction against the officers responsible foe the shoot-out,” Mr. Khwaja, who is also the District Magistrate, added.

Mr. Sofi is the second youth to have fallen to the Army’s bullets in the aftermath of Afzal Guru’s execution. Last month, two protesters drowned to death while fleeing from a clash with the security forces near Sumbal in north Kashmir. Mr. Sofi’s family said he had completed post-graduation in Social Welfare and the other day had got admission forms for the Master of Education course in Kashmir University.

Sources said that a crowd of over 4,000 residents carried Mr. Sofi’s body to the DC’s office-cum-residence while shouting pro-Azadi and anti-India slogans and demanded action against the Army. The DC pacified the angry crowds with the news of FIR against the Army and assured them law would take its course. Officials said that some restrictions were put in place, but a formal curfew would be imposed only in the morning on Wednesday. The plan to impose curfew was not due to Tuesday’s firing alone, they said, and added there were law and order concerns due to the separatists call asking residents of Bandipore and Baramulla districts to march to Afzal’s Guru’s residence on Wednesday.

In the evening, sources said, people in about a dozen neighbourhoods in Baramulla down staged demonstrations and used the public address systems of the community mosques to express their anger and protest against the death of Mr. Sofi, whose funeral was performed late on Tuesday. .

Here in the Legislative Assembly, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party staged a massive protest and walkout, holding the Omar Abdullah government responsible for Mr. Sofi’s death and failure to prevent Guru’s execution.

An emotional Omar Abdullah admitted his responsibility as the head of the government, but pleaded that the civil government was faced with handicaps due to the AFSPA that gave extraordinary powers to the armed forces. He said the anguish and pain that he felt due to such deaths of young men were much more than any other politician or human being in the State. For about a minute, he stood mute and speechless, but recovered soon. “This is why I am vehemently raising the issue of partial revocation of AFSPA so that the erring forces personnel do not go scot-free”, Mr Abdullah said. He argued it was unfair to hold him and his government responsible for everything from Guru’s hanging to Mr. Sofi’s death.

In self-defence: Army

An Army spokesperson said: “The Army patrol was soon outnumbered, some of them were injured. A person out of the mob assaulted the Army personnel with an iron rod creating a life-threatening situation.” He said the troops fired in air in self defence and welcomed an investigation by police.