Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Hundreds of residents clashed with police in the northern part of Indian-administered Kashmir after soldiers killed a civilian driver who was mistaken for a “rebel”, officials and residents said.
Asif Iqbal, 25, was shot dead on Saturday night when he left his home to transport an ailing neighbour to hospital. His killing sparked clashes between paramilitary police in Thindpura village and residents, who refused to bury Iqbal’s body.
“He died after getting injured in the firing just outside his home. He was preparing to ferry some patient in his cab. He was targeted by the army without any fault, everything was normal here. It was a cold-blooded murder,” Sajan Ahmad Shah, who lives in the nearby village, told Al Jazeera.
The officials said that the army had laid an ambush on Saturday evening in Thindpura village, in north Kashmir’s frontier Kupwara district, which borders the heavily militarised de facto border between India and Pakistan.
“Based on information of presence of terrorists in Thindpura village, the army placed ambushes to maintain surveillance over the area … At around 22:55 hours, an ambush party observed suspicious movement of three persons …. The individuals were challenged by troops; however, they did not respond,” the army said in a statement.
“Thereafter, terrorists opened fire towards army ambush party which was retaliated. In the crossfire, one person, later identified as Asif Iqbal Bhat, resident of Thindpura, was killed due to gunshot wound. It is learnt that he was a sumo taxi driver,” the army said.
Iqbal was taken to hospital, first to the nearby Kralpora area and then transferred to the region’s main city, Srinagar, but he died on the way.
“He was brought here in a very critical condition as he had a bullet injury to his skull,” a doctor from the sub-district Kralpora hospital told Al Jazeera. “He had lost a lot of blood on the spot. We gave him first aid and referred him to Srinagar but he had died on the way.”
As news of the driver’s death spread along with the clashes, the authorities ordered a shutdown of mobile internet service to prevent the protests from spreading to other areas.
Internet services are frequently suspended in Kashmir valley as a measure to contain dissent.
Kashmir valley has witnessed frequent spells of protests since summer last year, when the killing of a rebel commander in a gunfight triggered a widespread wave of demonstrations in the region.
The police said it has filed a complaint and will investigate the incident.
Superintendent of Police Kupwra, Shamsher Hussain, said the driver’s death was a case of “mistaken identity.
“The sumo driver was asked to stop but he didn’t and was then shot by soldiers,” a newspaper quoted Hussain as saying.
Soon after news of the driver’s death spread, people from nearby villages took to the streets, raising anti-India slogans that also triggered clashes in the area on Sunday, locals said. About half a dozen people were injured in the clashes.
All entry points to Kralpora were blocked to stop protesters from marching, and, in some places, tear gas shells were used to disperse the protesters, locals said.
“Many policemen suffered injuries, including senior superintendent of police,” Khalid Jehangir, who heads civil administration in Kupwara, told Al Jazeera.
Senior human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz told Al Jazeera that the incident indicates that there is no accountability in Kashmir, and killings continue to happen.
“The forces enjoy impunity here, that’s why these incidents are going to happen. Last week a lady was killed by army, and now this driver is killed. As long as there is no accountability they will continue to happen,” Imroz said.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep among Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population, and most support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule, despite a decades-long military crackdown to fight the armed rebellion.
Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Indian-administered portion to become independent or merge with Pakistan.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown. India maintains roughly 500,000 soldiers in the territory.