SRINAGAR: The family and friends of two young civilians have accused the security forces of killing them in cold blood while dealing with protesters near an encounter site in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district yesterday.

Abid Lone, 25 and Shahnawaz Hussain, 18, were among the seven civilians who were shot dead by security forces on the outskirts of Pulwama district yesterday following a brief shootout. More than three dozen protesters were wounded in subsequent clashes.

Three militants were gunned down in the shootout while an Army soldier was also killed in the firing by militants who had dug up a hideout deep inside an apple orchard in Sirnoo village of Pulwama.

“They killed him in front of my eyes, outside our house. How will the government defend his cold blooded murder. He wasn’t part of any protest as is being claimed. Let them prove their allegations; I will apologise to them but they don’t have any proof,” Muhammad Yusuf Ahangar, Shahnawaz’s father, said.

A class 12 student, Shahnawaz was also working as a mason to help his father in running the household.

The family lives in Monghama village which is at least one kilometre from the site of encounter while the second victim, Abid, an MBA graduate who was married to an Indonesian girl last year, hailed from Kareemabad village which is at least two kilometres from Sirnoo.

A friend of Abid, who accompanied him on his last walk from home to the encounter site yesterday, told The Citizen he was “targeted” by angry Army soldiers who were being pelted with stones by protesters.

Hundreds of protesters, many of whom had walked from adjoining villages to the site of encounter, clashed with security forces yesterday in the area. There was, however, no report of any injury to security forces.

“We were watching the protests from a distance when an Army vehicle came from the opposite side and skidded into a sewer. Protesters chasing the vehicle tried to mob it. Suddenly, a group of soldiers jumped out of the vehicle and fired indiscriminately. Abid was hit in the neck by a bullet,” the friend, who didn’t wish to be named said.

Abid is survived by his mother, wife, four-month-old baby and a younger brother who is studying engineering in Bengaluru and is expected to reach his home today.

He had quit a job in Hyderabad and returned home last year. After finishing his MBA, he met an Indonesian girl, Saima, in Hyderabad and they got married last year.

The J&K Police, however, said in an official release that the slain were “dangerously close” to the encounter site, “While operation was going on, a crowd which came dangerously close from different parts to the encounter site got injured. The injured were evacuated to hospital where unfortunately seven persons succumbed to their injuries. Others who were admitted in the hospital are stated to be stable,” the police statement reads.

The separatists have called for a three day shutdown, starting today, to protest the killings. The protest program includes a march on Monday to the Badami Bagh cantonment, the largest headquarters of Army in Kashmir, prompting the government to clamp curfew in several areas.

(Cover photo Basit Zargar)