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Scholar-turned militant Sabzar, associate killed in Nowgam gunfight.

A research scholar-turned-militant Sabzar Ahmad Sofi and his associate Asif Shergojri—both belonging to Hizbul Mujahideen—were killed in a gunfight in Nowgam area of Srinagar on Wednesday morning, days after a PhD scholar Manan Wani, who had also picked up arms, died in a gun-battle in northern Kupwara district. At least six police and Central Reserve Police Force personnel were also injured in encounter but were said to be “stable.”

According to police, the slain researcher Dr Sabzar Ahmad Sofi—a resident of Nainan area in southern Anantnag district—had joined militancy soon after the killing of popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani in 2016. Shergojri alias Khubaib—a resident of Khiram, Anantnag—had joined militancy in January this year, the police said.

Talking to reporters soon after the gunfight ended, deputy inspector general of police (central Kashmir range), V K Birdhi, said that following a tip-off, the police and CRPF launched a cordon in Soothu-Kothair area in Nowgam.

“We had a credible lead that militants are hiding in a house there. After the cordon, we zeroed in on the house. As the forces tried to go inside, the militants resorted to indiscriminate firing on forces, triggering an encounter,” he said, adding that in the ensuing gunfight, two militants were killed.

A police source said that the cordon was launched at around 2 am.

The militants were hiding in a house belonging to Abdul Majeed of Shopian district, but nobody was presently living in it,” the source said. “It seems that militants were using it as their hideout, for their movement in and around Srinagar.”

Additional director general of police (law and order/security) Munir Khan said that the encounter was conducted in a “most professional manner without any collateral damage.”

“The slain militant Sabzar was active since 2016. He had joined Hizbul Mujahideen after Burhan Wani’s death,” Khan said. “He was like Manan Wani given his educational qualification. Sabzar’s associate Asif was a ‘normal militant’.”

Asked whether the militants were desperate to enter Srinagar, he said: “The Fateh Kadal encounter where a top Lashkar-e-Toiba commander Mehrajudin Bangroo was killed is different from Nowgam one. Bangroo belonged to Srinagar and was operating in Srinagar only. Sabzar was killed on Srinagar outskirts but was operating in south Kashmir,” Khan said.

Sabzar, according to his family, had done MSC in Botany from Barkatullah University Bhopal and M.Phil from Jivagee University Gwalior.

He had left his home to pursue PhD but surfaced on a social networking site, wielding a gun, in 2016, a family source said.

‘AREA BEING SANITISED’

The police said to avoid repeat of Kulgam-like incidents, a multi-layer cordon was kept intact even after the gunfight ended to ensure that the site is properly sanitised before forces leave the area.

“We also erected banners displaying message: ‘don’t come closer, area being sanitised’. This was done to ensure that the encounter site is properly cleared of possible explosives,” the ADGP said.

In Laroo village in southern Kulgam district on Sunday, six civilians died after rushing to the encounter site where an explosion took place. Another civilian was reportedly killed after being hit by a bullet during clashes in the district.

MASSIVE CLASHES IN NOWGAM AREAS

Soon after the gunfight ended, scores of youth took to streets amid pro-freedom slogans in Nowgam, Naikbagh, Bonpora, Nowgam Chowk and resorted to intense stone pelting on the forces who were part of the cordon.

A witness said that angry youth blocked roads with rocks and logs and engaged forces in pitched-battles throughout the day.

“The forces responded with teargas and ‘pava’ shelling. Several youth sustained minor injuries in the clashes,” the witness said.

‘VANDALISM BY FORCES’

Residents of Nowgam, Pohru, Bonpora, Nowgam Chowk, Naik Bagh, Natipora, Channapora and other adjacent areas alleged that the police and CRPF personnel, while chasing the protestors, broke window panes of dozens of houses in these areas.

“The forces personnel also hurled abuses at people and damaged private vehicles parked on roadsides,” a group of women from Bonpora alleged.

POLICE VERSION

In a statement, a police spokesman said: “During Nowgam search operation, militants fired upon the search party, which was retaliated, leading to an encounter in which two militants were killed. Sabzar was involved many cases including FIR No. 22/2018 under section 13 Unlawful Activities Prevention Act at police station Bijbehara.”

“He was involved in killing of one civilian lady namely Biba wife of Muhammad Yousuf Matto, a resident of Naina Batapora,” the police statement read.

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