Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir – At least nine people, including three armed rebels, four Indian army soldiers and a police constable, have been killed in a gun battle in India-administered Kashmir.
The gun battle on Monday in Pinglan village of Pulwama district comes days after 42 Indian security personnel were killed in a suicide blast – the worst such attack in 30 years of Kashmir conflict, which has raised fears of confrontation with archenemy Pakistan.
A senior Indian army official told Al Jazeera that the operation against the rebels was launched early on Monday following intelligence inputs about their presence in a house in Pinglan village. It ended in the evening.
A police official told Al Jazeera that a deputy inspector general of police, Amit Kumar, was hit by a bullet in his leg.
“An army brigadier was also wounded in the fighting,” the official added.
Local residents in Pinglan village said that three houses and a cowshed were blown up by the armed forces and one of the house owners, Mushtaq Ahmad, 30, who ran a poultry shop in the village, was also killed.
“His house was among the one which was blown up, he is survived by two children, aged four and three. He was dragged out of his house early in the morning by the army and killed. Another boy was also hit by a bullet in his leg,” Ghulam Nabi, a resident, told Al Jazeera.
The police in a statement, however, said that the civilian was killed after the rebels fired “indiscriminately”. The statement also said two of the rebels were foreigners and one was local.
The officials said that the rebels belonged to Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group which is suspected of carrying out the deadly attack on the Indian paramilitary convoy on February 14, which killed 42 men.
“One of the killed militants is believed to be from the group that carried out the deadly attack in south Kashmir. We are still verifying the identity of these militants,” a senior official said.
Since the beginning of this year, there have been 14 gun battles in Kashmir. In February alone, there have been six such encounters in which 14 rebels have been killed.
The total number of rebels killed so far this year stands at 31, while 49 security forces died in the same period.
Residents said those who objected to the security operation were detained.
“Several houses have been blasted. Many young people who were protesting have been arrested. There is heavy security and we are forced inside our homes,” said 50-year-old Abdul Hamid.
|An Indian army soldier carries a rocket launcher near the site of the gun battle in Pinglan village [Younis Khaliq/Reuters]
“We fear a backlash from the army after these incidents,” Hamid said, remarks that reflect the unprecedented tension in Kashmir valley following Thursday’s attack.
On that day, 42 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed when a 20-year-old suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into one of the buses in the convoy carrying the men.
The deadly attack took place on a highway in Pulwama, which connects the disputed territory’s main city of Srinagar with its southern parts.
Pakistan-based rebel group JeM claimed responsibility for the attack, forcing India to pledge a “strong response” and undertake various measures, including withdrawing the most-favoured nation (MFN) status from its belligerent neighbour.
The bomber has been identified as a local rebel named Adil Dar, a resident of Pulwama, who had joined the JeM’s suicide squad nearly a year ago, according to police officials.
The deadliest attack so far in the decades-long armed rebellion in Kashmir has triggered a massive tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, facing a general election that must be held by May, is under domestic pressure for decisive action against Pakistan.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the suicide attack in mainland India, there have been multiple “revenge attacks” by right-wing mobs on Kashmiris who have been “threatened to leave or face consequences”.
Dozens of Kashmiri students have fled their colleges across India and headed home.
Many people in the national capital, New Delhi, and other cities offered their homes to the Kashmiris vacating their places following threats to their lives.
On Monday, Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty International India, said in a statement that the central and state governments in India must ensure that “ordinary Kashmiri women and men do not face targeted attacks, harassment and arbitrary arrests following the killing of 42 security personnel”.