The two killings added up to five attacks targeting minorities over the past three weeks, and eight overall aimed at individuals in this period, in the valley.
A BANK manager hailing from Rajasthan and a brick kiln worker from Bihar were shot dead by suspected militants within a span of 10 hours on Thursday, two days after a woman teacher from Jammu was gunned down outside her school, in the latest wave of attacks targeting minorities and migrants in the Kashmir valley.
The labourer was shot hours after the security establishment at the highest level in Delhi went into a huddle following the killing of the 29-year-old manager inside a bank in Kulgam.
At the high-level security meeting, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, NSA Ajit Doval, R&AW chief Samant Goel, Intelligence Bureau head Arvind Kumar, and other top officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs reviewed the situation in J&K.
In Kulgam earlier, CCTV visuals showed a lone gunman rushing into the Ellaquai Dehati Bank (EDB) branch at Arreh village and firing point-blank at the bank manager, Vijay Beniwal, from Hanumangarh. Beniwal, who had taken charge at the branch just four days ago, was critically wounded and rushed to a hospital where doctors declared him dead.
A police statement said the incident happened “at about 1100 hours” and that “IGP Kashmir along with DIG South Kashmir and DIG CRPF visited Kulgam district” where they held a meeting with “police and central CAPF (Central Armed Paramilitary Force) officers”.
In the second attack, the brick kiln worker was among two labourers targeted by gunmen at Magraypora village of Chadoora in central Kashmir’s Budgam, J&K police said.
Both the labourers were rushed to hospital where one of them, identified as Dilkhush Kumar, a resident of Arnia in Bihar, succumbed to injuries sustained on the neck, police sources said. The other worker, who was hit on the hand, hails from Punjab and has been identified as Rajan.
In Kulgam, CCTV footage showed a masked youth wandering on the road outside the bank, which leads to a main road in Arreh market. The footage showed the youth entering the partially opened bank and taking a quick look inside before exiting. It further showed him returning after 40 seconds, pulling out a pistol and opening fire at Beniwal before rushing out.
The EDB is a regional rural bank sponsored by the State Bank of India (SBI) and the Arreh branch, in Kulgam district, came up about 15 years ago, according to local residents. “Around 11 am, we heard an unusual sound. We didn’t suspect anything. But suddenly there were loud cries from inside the bank. When we rushed in, we saw him (Beniwal) covered in blood,” said a local shop-keeper.
Soon after the incident, all the shops in Arreh market were shut as the J&K Police and Army cordoned off the village to hunt for the gunman. “They (Army and police) picked up some shop-keepers for questioning. There is fear among the people. You can see, the whole area is shut,” the shop-keeper said.
The mainstream political parties in the valley condemned the attack on Beniwal. NC leader Omar Abdullah posted on social media that “tweeting to condemn an attack and condole a death (is) becoming a mind-numbingly regular thing. It’s heartbreaking to see families destroyed like this”.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti extended her “heartfelt condolences” to Beniwal’s family while Peoples Conference leader Sajad Lone said he was “at a loss of words to express my condemnation for such heinous acts”.
On Tuesday morning, a 36-year-old school teacher, Rajni Bala, was shot dead outside her school at Gopalpora village, about 23 km from Arreh.
In other attacks targeting minorities over the past three weeks, a Kashmiri Pandit government employee and a wine-shop staffer were gunned down in separate incidents. Bala’s killing reignited protests by the Kashmiri Hindu community, demanding protection and relocation.
Last month, suspected militants also shot dead a Kashmiri TV artiste, Amreen Bhat, outside her home in Budgam, and two off-duty policemen in separate attacks.
Official sources in Delhi said the high-level security meeting was called “due to the fast deteriorating situation in the valley”, with at least 20 targeted attacks this year, mainly aimed at the migrant community.
Shah was already scheduled to hold a security meeting over Kashmir on Friday with J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha slated to attend.
Shah had held a meeting two weeks ago to review security arrangements for the Amarnath Yatra, which will start later this month, and the overall security situation in J&K.
The attacks by suspected militants in the Kashmir valley this year has mainly targeted police personnel, teachers, government employees and sarpanches. Last year, 182 militants and at least 35 civilians were killed in the valley.