Hundreds of people, including several gun-toting militants, attended the funeral of a slain Lashkar-e-Taiba commander in south Kashmir, despite people's movement being restricted and internet curfew clamped across the Kashmir Valley on Monday, a day after four civilians and two insurgents were killed in a shootout with the Army.
Dozens of clashes involving stone-pelting erupted in Shopian as people came out on the streets to protest alleged civilian deaths in the south Kashmir district on Sunday evening.
While the security forces claim that all those killed were militants or their over-ground workers, separatist leaders and locals alleged that four of them were civilians.
The deaths on Sunday evening occurred after a militant travelling in a car attacked an Indian Army mobile vehicle checkpost near Pahnoo village in Shopian district, some 60 km south of Srinagar.
Four persons were confirmed dead on Sunday night and two more bodies were recovered on Monday morning, police said.
Police said they recovered the bullet-ridden body of Lashkar-e-Taiba militant Ashiq Hussain Bhat at Saidpora area in Shopian, about six km from the firing spot. He was missing since November 13, 2017.
"Preliminary investigation suggests that Bhat's death was part of Sunday's gunfight in Pahnoo village. Further investigation is on," a police officer said.
The body of a civilian, Gowhar Ahmad Lone, 24, was also found on Monday morning, some 250 metres away from the gunfight site
The Army said in a statement that militants fired at the mobile check post from two vehicles. It said troops signalled the vehicles to stop near the check post but they moved on and opened heavy fire.
"Our troops, in self defence, responded with fire. In the ensuing gunfight, one terrorist was hit and he fell off the vehicle. The vehicle veered off the road towards a stream and the second vehicle sped off."
While the security forces claim that all those killed were militants or their over-ground workers, separatist leaders and locals alleged that four of them were civilians
Later, the army personnel recovered the body of a terrorist, who was identified as Amir Malik, a Lashkar militant and a resident of village Harmen in Shopian. "Three more bodies were found in the vehicle during the search. These individuals were accompanying the terrorist."
The statement said Bhat, whose body was recovered on Monday, was also linked with the same chain of events that took place on Sunday evening.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said she was "deeply distressed by more deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire in Shopian" and expressed her "heartfelt condolences to the deceased's families".
Separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik called for a Valley-wide protest shutdown against the killings.
Fearing street protests, the authorities imposed restrictions in parts of Srinagar city and south Kashmir region. Internet connectivity in south Kashmir was suspended while its speed was curbed at other places in the Valley.
The State Public Service Commission ordered the cancellation of Monday's civil services exams in the state. All university and school board exams scheduled on Monday were postponed.
People thronged Kapran village of Shopian to participate in the funeral of Lashkar commander Ashiq Hussain Bhat. Half a dozen militants were also seen offering the congregational Namaz-e-Janaza of the slain commander. The militants then fired in the air to honour their dead colleague.
Protests also broke out in Shopian's neighbouring Anantnag and Pulwama districts and Badgam in central Kashmir, where youths clashed with the security forces.
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik was arrested from here on Monday during a protest march against the killings. Police intercepted the Malik-led protest march and took the separatist leader and some of his supporters into custody.
Speaking to media persons, Malik said: "It is the MLAs of the state who are responsible for the killings of these civilians. "The Army has been given a free hand as no effort has been made by the so-called law-makers of the state to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)."