SRINAGAR: Indian security forces on Friday killed seven militants who they said belonged to Pakistan-based groups during four gunbattles in Kashmir — the highest number of clashes in a single day in recent years.
Police said the militants belonged to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). JeM claimed a suicide attack last month that killed 40 Indian paramilitary troopers in Kashmir and brought the arch rivals to the brink of their fourth war.
India has since stepped up an offensive against separatist militants in the mountainous Muslim-majority region that both countries claim in full but rule it in part.
Pakistan denies giving material support to militants in Kashmir but says it provides moral and diplomatic backing for the self-determination of Kashmiri people.
Since the attack on Feb. 14, Indian authorities say 22 militants have been killed in Kashmir.
Three of the gun battles, one in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district bordering Pakistan, started on Thursday.
In one of the clashes, police said two Lashkar militants killed a 12-year-old boy they had taken hostage before being gunned down themselves.
A police spokesman said they were from Pakistan and had been active in the region, attacking troops and harassing civilians.
Indian authorities on Friday imposed restrictions on the movement of people and vehicles in parts of Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir state’s summer capital, after separatists called for protests against the death in custody of a man who detained by police for suspected links with militants.
Rizwan Asad Pandit, a chemistry graduate who taught at a private school, according to his family, had been arrested as part of a “terror case investigation”.
Police said he had been trying to escape and inquiries were being carried out into the cause of his death. His brother, Zulkarnain Asad Pandit, rejected that and said he had been tortured in custody.
Indian authorities on Friday also banned another separatist organisation in Kashmir, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. Its chairman Yasin Malik was jailed this month under a law that allows for suspects to be held for up to two years without charge.
A 12-year-old boy was among six people killed in three separate gun battles between rebels and security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir, the police and army said Friday.
Clashes have raged in the restive mountainous region since the deaths of 40 Indian troops in a suicide bombing last month provoked tit-for-tat air strikes between India and Pakistan.
The boy was killed after militants were trapped in his home in the northern town of Hajin and engaged in a two-day gun battle ending Friday, police told AFP. His father escaped.
Police later claimed the boy was “kept hostage” by the rebels.
“Despite repeated requests by community members and police for his release, he was brutally killed by the terrorists,” a police statement said, referring to the two killed rebels identified as Pakistani nationals. Two more militants were “eliminated” late Thursday in the frontier district of Baramulla, Kalia added, while one soldier and two policemen were injured.
Another militant died in a clash with soldiers in the south of the Kashmir valley, army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said.
At least a dozen villagers were wounded when government forces clashed with protestors near the site of the fighting, firing metal pellets and live bullets to push them back.
Three of the villagers were taken to hospital in Srinagar and were in critical condition, a local police officer and hospital sources said.
Entire neighbourhoods in Kashmir often march towards sites of gun battles between rebels and government forces, attempting to rescue militants.
Scores of civilians have died during such clashes.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since British colonial rule ended in 1947. Both claim it in full and have fought two wars over the territory.
India has about 500,000 soldiers in the part it controls, where armed groups are fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Last month’s suicide blast was claimed by a militant group based in Pakistan, and New Delhi has long accused Islamabad of backing a 30-year insurgency that has left tens of thousands of people dead, mostly civilians.