‘Accidental’ troop firing at Handwara Masjid premises

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Srinagar: Two civilians were injured in ‘accidental firing’ by a soldier of the 21 Rashtriya Rifles inside the premises of a masjid in Handwara town of northern Kashmir on Thursday afternoon. An Army spokesperson said soldiers were on routine patrol in Handwara town and a scuffle led to ‘accidental discharge of a weapon’.

The troops “took few photos of Jamia Masjid, Handwara, to showcase happiness and offering of prayers during the holy month of Ramzan” as the Army had planned an iftar near the town chowk. Later, they requested a local to click a few photos inside the masjid. However, “some rogue elements protested and instigated others into an altercation with the troops. While attempting to pacify them, two-three individuals got into a scuffle with the troops wherein there was an accidental discharge of the weapon, injuring two civilians, identified as Abdul Ahad Mir of Rajwar and Mujeeb Ah Sofi of Handwara,” the Army statement said. The crowd was pacified and subsequently dispersed after the police arrived to control the situation,” the statement said.

Residents, however, alleged a soldier took pictures and videos inside the masjid premises when people were performing ablutions and praying. It led to an argument after some youths objected. “Even as heated exchange between the 21 RR Army men and locals in the masjid was on, we heard gunshots,” a resident said. Both civilians were at the hospital and stable. Within minutes of the incident, the businesses in the main Handwara town were shut, but reopened later.

Political parties condemned the firing and demanded an impartial probe. “Condemn today’s incident at Handwara which left two civilians injured post an altercation with the army. GoI’s interference in religious matters by unwarranted surveillance of a simple act of offering prayers shows that Kashmiris pay dearly for the illusion of Naya Kashmir,” former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti alleged.

The Peoples Conference president Sajad Lone condemned the incident and demanded an impartial probe. Lone hoped that erring security forces would be held accountable and punishment meted out to those responsible. “What a sorry state of affairs. One of the most peaceful towns, Handwara, at the receiving end. Hoping against hope the guilty are punished,” he said.

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