SRINAGAR, Kashmir — At least six civilians were killed, and more than 40 injured, in an explosion at the site of a gun battle on Sunday between security forces and militants in south Kashmir's Kulgam region.
Officials told Huff Post India that a cordon was laid in the Laroo area of district Kulgam after receiving information about the presence of three militants. Subsequently a gun fight broke out early morning Sunday, resulting in the killing of Shahid Ahmed Tantray, Zubair Ahmed Lone and Yazil Ahmad Makroo of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) outfit.
"In Kulgam encounter while three terrorists of JeM terror outfits were killed , in the aftermath of the encounter when a large congregation entered the encounter site before it was cleared led to an explosion in which six people died," the Jammu and Kashmir police said in a statement.
According to local reports, the explosion took place when residents of the area entered the encounter site en masse to clear out the debris.
While the police in their statement requested locals not to visit any encounter site until the site is sanitized by the bomb disposal team, locals asked why the area was left unattended if it wasn't sanitized.
"After the conclusion of encounter as the forces moved out, the locals from the area started assembling at the site of encounter and had apparently fiddled with some stray explosive materials leading to an explosion. Consequently some individuals sustained grievous injuries and some of the injured identified as Ubaid Shah, Tajamul, Irshad Ahmad Padder, Uzair Ahmad and Masroor Ahmad unfortunately succumbed when brought to hospitals, besides five other injured are undergoing treatment. It is pertinent to mention that this incident occurred post encounter," the police statement continued.
The incident drew flak from all political circles in the Valley.
"Extremely saddened by the news of Kulgam incident , where civilians were once again caught in the cross fire of violence , thus adding fuel to the already volatile situation ," said former Chief Minister of Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti. "All words of condemnation ,condolence sound very hollow at this tragedy."
Leader of the National Conference and also an former CM, Omar Abdullah tweeted, "Alienating the people in the fight against militancy is a sure fire recipe for losing the fight. How long can we go on ignoring the ground realities & living in denial about how bad things are in Kashmir?"
Advisor to Jammu and Kashmir Governor K Vijay Kumar and DGP, J&K, Dilbag Singh also expressed regret in a statement issued by the state government
"They have expressed profound condolences to the bereaved families. Such sites should be avoided by civilians till they are properly sanitized," said an official statement, issued by his office.
The incident triggered violent clashes between government forces and civilians in several areas of south and central Kashmir.
The Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) a conglomerate of separatist leaders , called for a shutdown on October 22, prompting the security establishment in the Valley to take immediate measures to prevent the situation to deteriorate further.
Chairman of Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq tweeted, "Amidst internet &news blackout reports of #BloodbathInKulgam as Indian forces go berserk! Many civilian casualties reported,3 armed youth martyred more than sixty civilians injured many critical! Homes destroyed, women ruthlessly beaten! All roads to the area sealed, media barred!"
While the Jammu and Kashmir state board of school education postponed the Class 12 examinations scheduled for Monday, the Kashmir University in Srinagar and Islamic University of Science and Technology, which lies in south Kashmir also delayed the examinations scheduled for Monday.