SRINAGAR: A 14-year-old civilian was killed while 15 others, including five of them seriously, suffered injuries near the site of an encounter in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. A top Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Sameer Tiger, was gunned down in the encounter along with his associate.

Police officials said an Army major among two soldiers were also wounded in the initial exchange of fire with militants during the deadly encounter in Drabgam village of Puwama when forces launched a search operation following inputs about presence of militants there.

“As our forces approached the area, the militants opened fire, resulting in injuries to three Army soldiers who were rushed to an Army hospital in Srinagar for specialised treatment,” a senior Army officer said, adding that additional reinforcements were brought in to prevent militant from escaping.

Officials said the news of the encounter lured hundreds of people, including women and children, to the village who started protesting and pelting stones at the forces, in an attempt to distract the operation and help the militants in escaping.

A police officer said the protesters set fire to a CRPF vehicle in the area but there was no loss of life or injury to any personnel during the incident.

Witnesses said the police fired teargas and pellets to push back the protesting crowds but without success, “The Army men first fired aerial shots to disperse the protesters and when they didn’t relent, they fired directly at the protesters,” sources said.

Health officials in Pulwama said over dozen protesters suffered pellet and bullet injuries of whom five were referred to Srinagar with two of them in a critical state, “Shahid Ahmad, a resident of Arihal village, was brought to Pulwama district hospital where he succumbed,” they said.

Police said two militants identified as Sameer Bhat alias Tiger, whose picture with an American M-4 carbine had gone viral, and his associate Aaqib Wani, both residents of Pulwama, were killed in the encounter. Their bodies are being handed over to their family members for burial. Sameer, according to police, was involved in the recent broad daylight killing of a Congress activist, Ghulam Nabi Patel, in Pulwama.

“A mopping operation is going on in the area,” SSP Pulwama, Mohammad Aslam said, adding that the situation has been brought under control after the killing of Hizbul militants

Meanwhile, anticipating protests and clashes, authorities have snapped mobile internet service in parts of south Kashmir while the railway has also been suspended to prevent any harm to passengers using the service. Tensions are swelling in the area with additional forces deployed to contain the situation.