Srinagar/Kreeri: Police on Friday arrested one suspect in connection with the killing of veteran journalist Shujaat Bukhari, who was laid to rest in his ancestral village with thousands of people braving heavy rain to mourn a man who had championed peace in times of conflict and may have paid with his life for doing so.
The suspect, identified as Zubair Qadri, was seen in a video stealing the pistol of a PSO who was shot dead along with Bukhari on Thursday, Inspector General (IG) Kashmir Swayam Prakash Pani said at a hurriedly called press conference.
He also announced the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the slaying of the editor of Rising Kashmir and his two personal security officers, who were gunned down two days ahead of Eid while coming out of the newspaper's office in Press Enclave in the heart of Srinagar.
The shooting of the journalist, on his way to an iftar party, and that of an army jawan going home for Eid came just before the Centre's Ramzan ceasefire is due to end on Saturday, triggering debate on whether the Centre should resume operations against the militants.
As outrage grew over the audacious attack that shattered the tenuous peace of the last month, Lt Gen A K Bhatt (Corps Commander 15 Corps) said his assessment was that Bukhari was gunned down at the behest of Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI.
"My assessment is that it has been done by ISI. Rest, the investigation will find out," he told the media.
While preparations were underway in the morning for the funeral procession of the journalist, readers of the Rising Kashmir woke up to a paper with its front page carrying a full-page black and white photograph of its editor-in-chief against a black background.
The Rising Kashmir, which hit the stands as usual, also carried the message that it would not be cowed by cowards who had snatched him from them.
You left all too sudden but you will always be our leading light with your professional conviction and exemplary courage. We won't be cowed down by the cowards who snatched you from us. We will uphold your principle of telling the truth howsoever unpleasant it may be...Rest in peace! the paper said.
The message found wide echo as crowds of tearful mourners from across the Valley followed the cortege through the streets of the sleepy hamlet of Kreeri in Baramulla district, a short distance from Srinagar.
Some people were seen sobbing inconsolably as the casket was lowered to the ground.
Among those who took part in the last rites of Bukhari and visited his ancestral home to condole with the family were opposition leader Omar Abdullah and ministers from the PDP and the BJP.
The show must go on. As Shujaat would have wanted it to," Abdullah wrote on Twitter while sharing a picture of the front page of Rising Kashmir.
The funeral of one of Kashmir's best-known journalists was probably the biggest the village had seen, observers said.
There was a traffic jam in the area as the crowds of mourners swelled.
Bukhari, 50, who is survived by his wife and two children, was instrumental in organising several conferences for peace in the Kashmir Valley. He was also part of the Track II process with Pakistan.
Away from the media glare, PSOs Abdul Hamid and Hameed were given a quiet burial at their home in Karna in north Kashmir's Kupwara district.
Expressing extreme sadness, BSP chief Mayawati said the time had come for the Narendra Modi government to "shun its stubborn attitude and immediately review its Kashmir policy in the interest of the country".
N Ram, the chairperson of The Hindu group, where Bukhari worked between 1997 and 2012, said the late journalist was not a government man, he was not an establishment man, nor was he in sympathy with the extremist elements.
"He believed, I think, he was voice for a just solution however difficult that is going to be in Jammu and Kashmir," Ram told NDTV in an interview.
The noted editor said the killing had come as a shock because it was believed that journalists will not be killed in Jammu and Kashmir.
"There have been such cases in the past but not many. You have to go back 15 years before you could recollect that a journalist was killed," he said.
Bukhari is the fourth journalist to be killed by militants in the nearly three-decade violence in Kashmir.
In 1991, the editor of Alsafa, Mohammed Shaban Vakil, was killed by militants of the Hizbul Mujahideen.
Four years later, in 1995, former BBC correspondent Yussuf Jameel escaped with injuries when a bomb exploded in his office. ANI cameramen Mushtaq Ali lost his life in the incident.
In 2003, Parvaz Mohammed Sultan, editor of NAFA, was shot dead by Hizbul Mujahideen at his Press Enclave office.