Srinagar (India) (AFP) - An angry mob beat a police officer to death outside a mosque in Indian-administered Kashmir, police said Friday, as tensions ran high in the volatile Himalayan region.
Witnesses said the mob attacked Mohammad Ayub Pandith late Thursday after he fired his pistol when confronted by worshippers at the mosque in the main city of Srinagar who suspected him of being a government spy.
Violence between government forces and civilians has spiked in recent months in the disputed Muslim-majority region, where many oppose Indian rule.
Rights groups say 196 people have been killed so far this year in violent incidents, among them 55 civilians.
A police statement said Pandith, a deputy superintendent with the security wing of the state police, had been "attacked and beaten to death by a mob".
He "sacrificed his life in the line of duty," the statement said.
Witnesses said worshippers confronted Pandith, who was not wearing a uniform, as he took pictures with his mobile phone outside the Jamia (Grand) Mosque in Srinagar during the festival of Lailat-ul-Qadr, when Muslims hold late-night prayers.
He drew out his pistol and fired, injuring three, as his colleague fled the scene, they said.
"Some youths at that point immediately pounced on him, snatched his weapon and more people came and started beating him up," a witness told AFP, declining to give his name.
Police said they have arrested two people over the killing and identified one other.
Pandith was posted at the mosque to ensure the prayers passed off peacefully, the local director general of police S. P. Vaid said as he paid tribute to his colleague at a funeral ceremony.
- Protest fears -
Kashmir's chief cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq meanwhile condemned the murder in a tweet.
"Mob violence & public lynching is outside the parameters of our values & religion," he said.
"We cannot allow state brutality to snatch our humanity & values."
Hundreds of stone-throwing residents clashed with police in the area after the killing and authorities have imposed restrictions on people's movements, fearing protests.
The incident came a week after suspected rebels in Indian Kashmir ambushed a police patrol, killing five officers.
The state's Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti praised the police force for their "restraint" in the face of recent pressures, adding, "the day they run out of patience it will be a difficult situation".
In April the state police chief advised officers to avoid visiting their family homes after suspected rebels went warned of consequences if police did not quit their jobs or stop participating in counter-insurgency operations.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947, but both claim the territory in its entirety.
Rebel groups have for decades fought roughly 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the disputed territory, demanding independence or a merger of the region with Pakistan.
Over the past year the violence has increasingly drawn in civilians, with young students holding mass protests and whole communities coming out to throw stones at government forces engaged in anti-militant operations.
Officials say dozens of young men have joined the rebel ranks since security forces killed a hugely popular rebel commander last July.