Srinagar: Seven suspected militants were killed and three civilians and four personnel from the armed forces were injured in two separate gunfights in South Kashmir on Friday, which reported the highest spike of casualties in a single day this year in the region.
According to the Inspector General of Police (Kashmir), Vijay Kumar, two militants were killed in Tral area while five others were killed in Shopian area. Both the encounters concluded at about 11.30 a.m following which the police officer said one of the slain men was a top militant affiliated to Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind (AGH), an outfit that has pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda.
As the gunfight ensued in Shopian on Thursday night, the security forces gave the suspected militants an offer to surrender multiple times. The offer was made twice by local Imam in the ongoing encounter and also by the family of one of the suspected militants, however, failed to convince them to lay down their weapons.
In the morning, as the gunfight resumed, protests broke out near the Shopian encounter site following which at least three civilians were injured, who were later shifted to local hospital for treatment. Their condition is said to be stable, according to IGP Vijay Kumar.
GOC Victor force Maj Gen Rashim Bali told reporters during a press conference in Srinagar that one officer and three jawans were also injured in the gunfight. “They received minor injuries and their condition is stable,” he said.
One of the suspected militants killed in Shopian is yet to be identified and those who were identified by the police include locals of South Kashmir – Muzammil Tantray, Adil Lone, Younis Khanday and Basit Bakshi. Tantray and Lone are said to have joined the militant ranks in 2019 while Khanday and Bakshi had joined last year.
Lt General DP Pandey, General-Officer-Commanding (GOC) of the Srinagar-based Chinar Corps said the “cycle of violence” continues in the region, however, there has been a decrease in the recruitment of militants this year so far.
One of the slain men from Tral area in Pulwama has been identified as Imtiyaz Shah, who, the police claimed, was an A category militant associated with AGH. “We had recently written to PHQ to revise his category to an A+ as he was involved in various militancy-related incidents and attacks since he had joined in July 2019. He was also planning to carry out an attack on Amarnath Yatra pilgrims,” the IGP said during the press briefing.
“They have attacked soft targets many times earlier, including civilians, and Yatra pilgrims are also soft targets they plan to attack but we will ensure that all security measures are taken care of,” the IGP said.
The AGH, established by a former Hizbul Mujahideen defector Zakir Rashid in 2017, was earlier claimed to have been wiped out in the region by the police in October 2019 after the killing of three militants in Pulwama, including its top commander Hamid Lelhari. With the killing of Imtiyaz, no militant active on the ground is believed to be part of the outfit, unless there is a new recruitment, according to IGP Kumar.
The security officers claim all the militant groups in Kashmir including Hizb, Al Badr, Lashkar e Toiba, Jaish e Mohammad and AGH work closely with each other and there is an interchange of cadres, especially between LeT and new outfits like The Resistance Front (TRF) or People’s Anti Fascist Front (PAFF), which have claimed various attacks in the region since last year.
Pro Al Qaeda group, AGH, has remained limited within few areas of Pulwama district and has failed to increase its footprint, especially after Zakir Bhat, codenamed Musa, was killed in early 2019.
Update: Meanwhile, suspected militants shot dead a territorial army soldier in Bijbehara area of South Kashmir at about 5 pm. The victim was identified as Mohammad Saleem Akhoon a resident of Bijbehara. According to officials, Akhoon succumbed to his injuries as he was shifted to a hospital.