Jammu: Security forces, on Wednesday, called off the search operation after militants escaped from the house in which were holed up. Their escape came after an exchange of bullets with security forces in an eight-hour long search operation in Kulgam district of Kashmir division.

Sources told MyNation that army and local police had received reliable inputs about the presence of a group of heavily armed militants in a house in Tazipura-Mohammed Pura locality of Kulgam district.

The entire locality was immediately cordoned off last night by security forces and a search operation was launched to neutralize the militants.

Eyewitnesses told MyNation that as soon as security forces zeroed in on the house, three militants opened fire on security personnel, triggering a gunfight between them around 4am.

Security forces retaliated, targeting the militants hiding inside the house. Upon hearing gun shots, locals from nearby areas rushed towards the site of the encounter and held a demonstration in an attempt to break the cordon.

As thousands of people assembled at the encounter site, eyewitnesses told MyNation that security forces called off the search operation even as the militants were trapped so that the civilian lives would not be put at risk.

Before security forces searched the house where the militants were hiding, locals rushed to the spot causing security forces to withdraw.

Even though police authorities have denied these claims, eyewitnesses maintain that locals went inside the damaged house and looked for the militants. They (locals) found two militants alive from the rubble of the razed residential house, which was allegedly bombed by security forces.

Soon violent clashes with security forces started in Kulgam, compelling paramilitary forces and local police to quell the protesters.

The protesters pelted stones on security personnel, said an eyewitness, adding that the police used pellet guns, and fired in air to disperse the protesters.

Clashed continued till afternoon, but the situation later returned to normalcy.

Even though tension is high in the area, the situation was brought under control by police and paramilitary personnel, said sources, adding that at least 53 people were wounded during the protests.

SSP Kulgam Gurinder Singh told MyNation that “No militant was killed in the search operation carried out by security forces which lasted for eight long hours in Kulgam.”

“We had inputs about presence of three militants of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). To neutralize them, we launched operation at 4 AM and it continued till 12 PM. As per our intelligence inputs, all three militants of Jaish managed to escape as soon as the operation was launched by the forces, taking advantage of the darkness and the dense apple orchard in the area,” SSP Singh told MyNation.

When asked if people who rushed to the encounter site facilitated the escape of the militants, the SSP denied it and said, “The militants had escaped before the people assembled.”

He denied reports of injuries to locals who protested, and made an appeal to people, requesting them to avoid assembling at encounter sites.