Before the government forces got their biggest catch since Burhan Wani’s death at the break of dawn on Sunday the search parties had twice returned disappointed from Bhat ho
His worst fear came true as the muezzin called for prayers in the local mosque. A group of SOG men knocked at his door asking the family to come out. Sensing the danger, the 60-year-old Bhat, his wife, two daughters and son, Firdous Ahmad, soon rushed out.
“But the forces took my son along for searching our house,” said Bhat at the house of his neighbor, surrounded by a group of elderly men, occasionally looking through the window at the charred walls of his house which he had constructed only last year.
Less than 20-minutes later, he said, they (forces) came out with “empty hands”.
The Bhat family thought the soldiers had retreated.
“They again turned up to search my house but couldn’t find anything. And that is when a large party of Army men and SOG personnel barged in taking my son along again. Within minutes we heard the bullet sounds,” Bhat said.
Two of the soldiers Army and SOG were injured during the initial exchange of fire between the hiding militants and the search party inside the house.
“Then, bullets rained at my house and forces fired mortar shells as the encounter went on,” said Bhat.
By the time clock struck 9 in the morning the forces launched a “final assault”, setting the house on fire and killing all the five militants including top commander Saddam Paddar of Heff, Shopian.
One of those killed was an assistant professor Dr Muhammad Rafi of Ganderbal who had gone missing only two days ago from Kashmir University.
Another militant Adil Malik of Malikgund Shopian was one of the longest surviving rebels while Tauseef Sheikh of Rampur (Qaimoh) was the nephew of Hizb commander Abbas Sheikh.
The fifth slain militant was Bilal Moulvi, a former government employee.
The killings are the “second major success” for government forces in little over a month after 13 militants were killed in three separate encounters on April 1 in Shopian and Anantnag.
Last Monday another top rebel Sameer Tiger and his associate Auqib Ahmad Khan were killed by the forces in a gunfight in Drabgam.
Sunday’s firefight ended around noon when soldiers retrieved all the five bodies from the encounter site. But by then thousands of people from different parts of southern Kashmir had started marching towards the village.
Muzaffar Hussain, a villager said when the news about encounter spread in the morning hundreds of youth from nearby villages rushed towards the encounter site and pelted stones on the forces, in a bid to help militants escape.
“But they were not allowed to move beyond the outer cordon by the forces who fired bullets and pellets at them (youth) resulting in injuries to many of them,” he said.
Later in the day thousands of people participated in the funerals of the slain militants.
Amid heavy rains people including women marched on foot to the native villages of the slain militants to have a last glimpse of their “heroes”.
There was an unending queue of motorbikes and cars parked at the entrance of the villages as people from different districts arrived to participate in the funerals.
At least 10 rebels including Zeenta-ul-Islam made appearance at the funeral of their fallen commander and his associate, Padder and Moulvi and offered gun salutes. Militants also offered gun salutes at the funeral of Sheikh and Adil.But the five rebels were not lucky the third time.A joint team of Army and police’s Special Operation Group (SOG) had laid a cordon around the neighbourhood at midnight illuminating it with flood lights. An orchardist, Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, in whose house the militants were trapped, had sensed the danger.