Jammu and Kashmir government initiates legal action after three civilians picked up by Army found dead

Eight persons were picked up by the Army after unidentified terrorists killed four jawans in an ambush in the Poonch-Rajouri area

December 23, 2023 09:56 pm | Updated December 24, 2023 08:28 am IST - NEW DELHI

Supporters of Jammu Kashmir National Conference shout slogans during a protest in Srinagar on December 23, 2023 after three civilians were found dead in Army custody.

Supporters of Jammu Kashmir National Conference shout slogans during a protest in Srinagar on December 23, 2023 after three civilians were found dead in Army custody. | Photo Credit: AP

A day after four Army jawans were killed in an ambush by unidentified terrorists in the Poonch-Rajouri area of Jammu and Kashmir, three civilians who were picked up allegedly by the Army for questioning were found dead on December 22 with multiple injuries. Five more persons have been admitted to hospital with serious injuries.

A relative of one of the deceased civilian told The Hindu that the three men were tortured to death and the families were asked to collect the bodies from an Army camp on Friday evening.

A 29-second video of Army jawans stripping the three men and putting chilli powder on them is viral on social media. The men are seen lying lifeless on the floor with severe wounds on their back.

The Army posted on X, “Reports have been received regarding three civilian deaths in the area. The matter is under investigation. Indian Army stands committed to extending full support and cooperation in the conduct of investigations.”

The J&K police were in the process of registering a criminal case into the death of the civilians, who were identified as Mohammad Showkat (22) Safeer Hussain (45) and Shabir Ahmad (32).

The Information and Public Relations Department of Jammu and Kashmir posted on X that legal action had been initiated in the matter. “The death of three civilians was reported yesterday in Baffliaz of Poonch district. The medical legal formalities was conducted and legal action in this matter has been initiated by the appropriate authority. Government has announced compensation for each of the deceased. Further, government has also announced compassionate appointments to the next of kin of each deceased,” it said.

Javed Ahmed, cousin of Showkat, said it was his relative and two others from Topi Mir village who are seen in the video. The men were from the tribal Gujjar Bakkarwal community. There are around 25 families in the village, which is a few kilometres away from the ambush site at Dera ki Gali in Thanamandi where the four jawans were killed on Thursday (December 21). On Friday morning, the Army allegedly picked up the eight men from the area.

“People here have always supported the Army. Grave injustice has been done. They were poor people...we do not even have enough resources to organise a protest,” Mr. Ahmed said.

He added that all roads were blocked by the security forces and Internet was suspended in the area following the civilian killings.

Mr. Ahmed said Showkat got married 10 months ago and has a brother with physical disability.

Shabir used to run a small shop near the Army camp. Shafeer’s brother works as a porter with the Army.

Political parties demand inquiry

Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir condemned the incident and demanded an inquiry. Former Chief Minister and People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti asked “how is this ‘Khushal Kashmir’ or ‘Naya Kashmir’ where neither Armymen nor common people are safe?”

The National Conference and the Apni Party protested against the civilian killings in Srinagar.

Soldiers decapitated

The Army said on Saturday that search operations by the security forces were continuing in the area of operations after the “terrorist initiated incident at Bafliaz in Poonch-Rajouri Sector (21/22 Dec. 23).”

The attack on the Army convoy has been claimed by the People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF), a proxy outfit of the Jaish-e-Mohammed. The PAFF was declared a “terrorist organisation” by the Union Home Ministry in January.

The terrorist group posted photos of the ambush on social media. Multiple sources told The Hindu that three of the soldiers were decapitated. The Army is yet to officially announce the names of the deceased soldiers.

The PAFF came to the notice of the security agencies in October 2021 after nine soldiers were killed in an ambush. The outfit had released an eight-minute video of the attack.

Following the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution, the Jammu region has seen a revival of terrorist attacks. Till November, as many as 15 security force personnel have been killed in multiple terror incidents in the region. The Chenab Valley, comprising Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban districts, and the Pir Panjal region, comprising Rajouri and Poonch districts, in Jammu have witnessed targeted attacks and infiltration from across the border since 2020.

A senior government official said that there was no clarity on the number of terrorists in the region. “They appear to be highly trained men who know the jungle topography quite well. There are more than two-three groups active in the Jammu region,” the official said.

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