Srinagar: Two more truck drivers were killed and a crew member was critically wounded in a sneak attack carried out by suspected militants in Jammu and Kashmir’s southern Shopian district on Thursday evening, officials said.
The assailants also torched two trucks in which apple boxes were being loaded for transportation to a Delhi fruit market and also a three-wheeler load-carrier owned by a local resident, a report said.
Confirming the incident, Shopian’s DCP Muhammad Yasin Chaudhary said that the seriously injured conductor of one of these trucks, identified as Jeevan Singh, has been evacuated to a hospital.
The police said that gunmen targeted the truckers and their vehicles in Chittergam Kalan village of Shopian, about 50-km south of summer capital Srinagar. One of the slain men is Ilyas Khan, a resident of Alwar district of Rajasthan, whereas the other victim could not be identified immediately but he appears to be a Hindu, a police officer said over the phone from Shopian.
DC Chaudhary said that the corpses of the slain drivers and injured conductor bore both bullet and burn injuries. An earlier report had said that the identity of one of the slain drivers could not be ascertained as his body had been charred beyond recognition.
The security forces laid siege to a vast area around Chittergam Kalan to conduct searches, the sources said. On October 16, two apple buyers from Punjab were shot by suspected militants in Tranz area of Shopian. While one of them Charanjit Singh was brought dead at a government-run hospital in neighbouring Pulwama district, the condition of the other identified a Sanjiv Kumar who is admitted in a Srinagar hospital continues to be critical. The assailants had also torched the truck in which the apple boxes bought by the duo were being loaded.
The witnesses had said that gunmen seized the apple-trader duo and about eighteen non-local labourers at Tranz on October 16 afternoon and that after releasing the labourers unharmed, they shot the traders from point blank range. Earlier during that day, a brick kiln worker 29-year-old Sethi Kumar Sagar from Chhattisgarh was shot dead by gunmen in Pulwama’s Nihama area.
On October 14 night, gunmen had shot dead a truck driver from Rajasthan identified as Sharief Khan in Shopian’s Sindhoo-Shirmal village. The gunmen had also torched his truck loaded with apples which were to be transported out of the Valley. The co-driver of the truck had escaped unhurt.
J&K’s director general of police Dilbag Singh had blamed these attacks on “Pakistan-sponsored terrorists” and asked all field commanders of J&K police, the Army and Central Armed Police Forces to work out additional security measures in consultation with local fruit traders. The police had put up posters in different areas of Shopian with the photographs of two alleged Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants — former Special Police Officer Syed Naveed Mushtaq alias Naveed Babu of Shopian’s Nazneenpora and Rahil Magray of neighbouring Ganavpora village. The police had requested the people to share information that might lead to their capture.
Following these incidents, the government had announced that fruit traders from various parts of the country camping in Kashmir Valley to buy apples from the local growers were being escorted to ‘safer’ locations by the police and other security forces. They had also said that trucks in which the produce was to be transported out of the Valley have been along with crew members taken to ‘secure’ locations.
However, despite repeated assurances from the authorities that necessary security would be provided to them and also to farmers, many non-local fruit buyers and labourers associated with the trade chose to leave the Valley following the violent incidents.
Also, these incidents left the local population particularly farmers and other stakeholders in a state of shock and dismay. The panic-stricken growers would pluck and pack fruit rather reluctantly. In fact, entire Rs. 8,000 crore fruit industry of the Valley which provides livelihood to 7 lakh families, directly and indirectly, has been in distress due to the prevailing situation and persisting stalemate over the Centre’s stripping J&K of its special status and splitting the State into two Union Territories..
Earlier during the day on Thursday, the J&K government had said that 588, 123 metric ton of fresh fruits have been transported out of the Valley in 41,672 trucks during the past three months.