Murder of well-known journalist in Kashmir raises tensions

Thousands attend funeral of editor shot dead outside his office by ‘Islamic militant group’

Women mourn as people carry the body of  journalist  Shujaat Bukhari, who was killed by gunmen outside his office, during his funeral in Kreeri, north of Srinagar. Photograph: Danish Ismail/Reuters

Women mourn as people carry the body of journalist Shujaat Bukhari, who was killed by gunmen outside his office, during his funeral in Kreeri, north of Srinagar. Photograph: Danish Ismail/Reuters

 

Thousands of mourners gathered on Friday for the funeral of a senior Kashmiri journalist who, along with his two bodyguards, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in northern India’s insurgency-ridden Kashmir state on Thursday evening.

Prayers for Shujaat Bukhari (50), editor of Rising Star, a popular local English-language daily, were held at the grand mosque in Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, before he was buried in his native Kreeri village, 40km to the north.

The highly-regarded Bukhari was killed outside his office in central Srinagar the previous evening by three motorcycle-borne gunmen, as he was leaving to attend Iftar, the ritual evening meal during Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting.

Bukhari and one of his bodyguards died on the spot, while his other personal security officer succumbed to his bullet injuries later in hospital.

Eyewitnesses said the two motorcycle pillion riders, lying in wait to ambush Bukhari, opened fire on him and his guards at about 7.30pm as they were getting into their car, and then fled into the adjoining crowded market place.

The editor of Rising Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari, was a strong advocate for peace in Kashmir and had been provided police protection following three attacks on him over the past decade. Photograph: EPA
The editor of Rising Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari, was a strong advocate for peace in Kashmir and had been provided police protection following three attacks on him over the past decade. Photograph: EPA

No group has claimed responsibility for the killings, but police have released blurred CCTV footage of the three suspects.

Police also claimed that the killers belonged to one of the larger Islamic militant groups fighting for an independent Muslim homeland in Kashmir since 1989, in a conflict that has claimed more than 70,000 lives.

A frequent contributor to the BBC, Bukhari was a strong advocate for peace in Kashmir and had been provided police protection following three attacks on him over the past decade.

He was also kidnapped by a militant group in the early 1990s, but managed to secure his release, unharmed.

Bukhari’s murder has been condemned by provincial and federal political leaders who acknowledged him as a “fearless” journalist who worked actively for peace in Kashmir.

“Terrorism has hit a new low with Shujaat’s killing and that too on the eve of Eid,” tweeted Kashmir’s chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. We must unite against forces seeking to undermine our attempts. Justice will be done, she added.

Bukhari’s murder, which has exacerbated simmering tension across Kashmir, occurred when Indian security forces declared a ceasefire during Ramadan as a gesture of conciliation. Officials indicated the ceasefire is almost certain to end after Eid on Saturday.

Survival

Bukhari, who recently wrote that survival was the first challenge for all journalists in Kashmir, is one of 19 reporters to have died in the principality, either directly or caught in crossfire.

Meanwhile, in a related development the funeral of Indian army rifleman Aurangzeb, whose bullet-ridden body was recovered in Pulwama, 40km from Srinagar on Thursday, was also held on Friday.

The soldier, who uses only one name, was on his way home on leave to celebrate Eid earlier this week when he was kidnapped by militants and shot dead.

India blames neighbouring Pakistan for fuelling the insurgency in Kashmir, which is divided between the neighbours, but claimed in its entirety by both.

Pakistan denies India’s charges, saying it only provides Kashmir’s insurgency “moral and political” support and, in turn, accuses the Indian army of human rights abuses in the Himalayan principality.