Date: 18 Jun 2015

Kashmir shuts down over killings

SRINAGAR: Shops and schools shut down in parts of India-held Kashmir on Wednesday in protest against a string of apparently targeted killings that has triggered fear in the disputed Himalayan region.

Hundreds of police and paramilitary personnel in riot gear patrolled mostly the deserted city of Srinagar after anti-India groups called a strike over the killings which they blamed on undercover security forces.

Unidentified gunmen have killed four activists including two former militants in the last week in the Sopore area of northern Kashmir.

The killings began on June 9 when gunmen shot and killed a member of the group led by Kashmir’s top leader Syed Ali Geelani.

That was followed by the killing of three people — one a sympathiser of the same group and two former militants — a few days later.

Police said initial investigations indicated that the Hizbul Mujahideen group was behind the attacks and announced a reward of Rs2 million for information.

The group is one of several fighting for independence or merger of the territory with Pakistan.

The manner of the latest killings has worried some activists, former militants and residents.

“Many people whose political leanings are known are fleeing Sopore,” a former militant from the area said.—AFP

Tariq Naqash adds from Muzaffarabad: Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin rejected allegations that his group was behind the killings and instead termed them “the handiwork of Indian intelligence agencies”.

“We strongly condemn those killings. No mujahideen group can resort to such steps. In fact, it’s the handiwork of Indian agencies and their stooges,” he said at a press conference.

He recalled Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s statement that India would use terrorists to counter terrorists, and said the situation could well be the outcome of New Delhi’s ghastly policy.

He said that though Sopore was a stronghold of his group, it did have a sizeable presence of renegades (a term used for pro-India militants). “I do not rule out the possibility of such people having entered the folds of Hizbul Mujahideen or any other mujahideen group under a well thought-out conspiracy to defame the freedom struggle,” he said.

“Let me make it clear that whosoever is engaged in these killings is being backed by the funding, training, weapons and blessings of the Indian agencies,” he added.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2015