"Civilians Caught In Crossfire": Mehbooba Mufti On Shopian Firing Deaths

"Deeply distressed by more deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire in Shopian. My heartfelt condolences to the deceased's families," Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said in a tweet.

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They were innocent, say relatives of the four civilians killed in Army firing in Shopian

Srinagar:  A late night shootout at Shopian in south Kashmir resulted in the killing of two local terrorists and four civilians travelling in two vehicles. The Army says it retaliated after its check post was fired at from a car, in which the terrorists and their associates were killed.

While the body of one terrorist was found at the encounter site last night, the body of another was found six kilometres away in an orchard today morning. Both of them are linked to the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the army said.

The body of one of the four civilians killed -- Gowhar Ahmad Lone who was doing his master's in education -- was found in a car 200 metres from the encounter site. The bodies of the other three civilians were found in another car near the place of the encounter.

"Deeply distressed by more deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire in Shopian. My heartfelt condolences to the deceased's families," Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said in a tweet.

While the army claims the four civilians killed were over ground workers (associates of the terrorists), their families insist they were innocents who had nothing to do with terrorism.

"It is a matter of investigation, there is a thin line between a civilian and an over ground worker, we don't have to be overly concerned about that. They were definitely civilians, it is a matter of investigation to what extent they were involved in supporting the terrorists," said Brigadier Harbir Singh.

Police say the investigation will reveal more.

"It's a fact that two terrorists have been killed. Their bodies have been recovered and, after identification, handed over to their family members. Four others persons have been killed. We will look into it - how they were killed, whether they were travelling with the militants, whether they were different -- this is part of investigation," said SP Vaid, the director general of police.

"They are not affiliated to any militant outfit, they have been killed deliberately," said Mohammad Khalil, a relative of one of the civilians killed.

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There was an immediate fallout in the Kashmir valley. With separatists calling for a shutdown, schools that were scheduled to reopen today after winter vacations stayed shut, the Kashmir Administrative Service exam was postponed, mobile internet service slowed down and train service in the valley was suspended.

In January, three civilians were killed when army personnel fired at a stone-throwing mob in Shopian. The chief minister had ordered a magisterial probe into the incident.

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