Seven civilians were killed Sunday when unused explosives of three Jaish-e-Mohammed militants, gunned down in an encounter, went off in Kulgam district of South Kashmir, police said.
The incident happened at Laroo village in Kulgam district, one of the worst hit by militancy in South Kashmir, Sunday morning when security forces launched a search-and-cordon operation following intelligence report about the presence of militants.
The security forces made repeated announcements to the militants for surrender but instead they were fired upon. In the retaliatory fire, three militants of Jaish-e-Mohammed were killed.
As the security forces were carrying out routine clearance, they came under heavy stone pelting from a mob, which had cordoned off the encounter site.
During the partial withdrawal of the security forces, the mob thronged the encounter site to gather remaining arms and ammunition, which is passed on later to militant groups, police alleged.
During this, unexploded shells and grenades of militants went off killing one and injuring several others. They were rushed to a hospital where five succumbed to their injuries.
There is another unidentified body, completely charred and beyond recognition, at the hospital, police said, adding that no one had claimed the body so far.
The incident came days before the scheduled visit of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Kashmir on Tuesday.
The killed militants have been identified as Shabdil Ahmed Tantray of Shopian, who joined militancy in July 2018; Zubair Ahmed Lone of Kulgam (joined in May); and Yazil Ahmad Mukhroo of Bijbehara, who had joined in June this year.
Jammu and Kashmir police tweeted that "civilians visited encounter site immediately after operation in spite of request not to visit as thorough search was on for explosives. They didn't listen and thus visited the spot. Some explosive substance went off resulting in injuries to civilians."
Today's incident was a grim reminder of April 1 incident this year when three army men, four civilians and four militants were killed in adjoining district of Shopian.
Advisor to the Governor, K Vijay Kumar, and DGP Dilbag Singh have expressed regret over the loss of civilian lives at the encounter site and conveyed their profound condolences to the bereaved families.
They said such sites should be avoided by civilians till they are properly sanitised.
National Conference President Farooq Abdullah and Vice President Omar Abdullah expressed shock and deep anguish over the killing of civilians in Laroo in Kulgam. Both leaders prayed for peace to departed souls and wishes speedy recovery to the injured.
Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, "Extremely saddened by the news of kulgam incident, where civilians were once again caught in the cross fire of violence, thus adding fuel to the already volatile situation. All words of condemnation, condolence sound very hollow at this tragedy.