Indian army probes killings after ‘terrorists’ identified as migrants

Indian soldiers patrol a deserted street in Srinagar last Wednesday. (AP pic)

SRINAGAR: The Indian army said Monday it is investigating the deaths of three accused militants in a military operation, after a family said they were migrant workers who had gone missing.

The army originally said the three dead from the July 18 operation were “Pakistani terrorists”. However a Kashmir family said they had identified the three from photos posted on social media.

Naseeb Khatana said his three cousins – Abrar Khatana, 18, Imtiyaz Ahmed, 21 and Abrar Ahmad, 25 – left their home in the southern district of Rajouri on July 16 to look for work in the Kashmir valley, but the family lost contact with them a day later.

The Indian army said on July 18 that soldiers killed three suspected “Pakistani terrorists” during a counterinsurgency operation in the south Kashmir village of Amshipora.

The bodies, it said, had been buried in a remote border area.

“Today we identified their bodies from photographs that appeared in social media,” Naseeb Khatana told AFP from his home.

“We want justice and their bodies returned to us,” Khatana said.

The family also demanded DNA testing of the dead.

Army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said in a brief statement that “the army is investigating the matter”.

“The three terrorists killed during the encounter have not been identified and were buried based on established protocols,” the statement added.

Following the killings in July, Brigadier Ajay Kotach said the military operation was launched after receiving information about the presence of rebels.

“We were also getting inputs of presence of certain identified Pakistani terrorists in that area,” Kotach told a press conference.

Police, who would normally have a presence at such operations, said they did not take part in this one and had launched their own inquiry, a senior police official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The incident has generated social media outrage and local pro-India groups, the Communist Party of India and the Jammu Kashmir Apni Party, demanded an independent probe into the deaths.

The incident raised memories of past incidents in the restive territory where a three-decade-old separatist uprising has left tens of thousands of dead, mainly civilians.

In 2010, three army officers were found guilty of killing three labourers who had been branded as Pakistani infiltrators.

The killings sparked months of protests that left more than 100 civilians dead.

In 2000, the army claimed to have killed five “terrorists” responsible for the massacre of 35 Sikhs. An investigation found the five were locals killed by soldiers in a staged gun battle.