Pulwama: The government forces on Wednesday killed the top-most militant commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, Riyaz Naikoo, in an encounter at his hometown Pulwama in South Kashmir spurring clashes in the area.
As the encounter ensued, scores of locals were injured during the clashes between youths and police personnel, triggering panic in the area.
Following Naikoo's killing, the authorities in the union territory snapped mobile telephony and internet services across the region, barring BSNL postpaid services that are still functional.
The encounter began early morning Wednesday in Beighpora village of Pulwama where Naikoo and his associate Adil, also a local of Pulwama's Panjran village, were located.
The operation against the top commander, who operated under codename Muhammad Bin Qasim, was carried out jointly by the 55 Rashtriya Rifles of the army, Central Reserve Police Force and the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Jammu and Kashmir Police.
According to sources, Naikoo and his aide were trapped inside a house in his native village of Beighpora, close to his home. As the gunfight ensued in the area, scores of locals gathered in the neighborhood triggering clashes with the police which had closed all entry and exit points leading to the encounter site.
Naikoo's killing is considered as the biggest counter-insurgency achievement of the year so far, which comes days after militants carried out a deadly attack in North Kashmir's Handwara, killing five security personnel including a colonel and a major rank army officer.
he 35-year-old militant Naikoo, with a bounty of Rs 12 lakh on his head, was known to be one of the most "potent commanders" in the Hizbul's militant ranks. In 2018, 11 relatives of police personnel were abducted within hours in South Kashmir who were, however, released unharmed within 48 hours. The abductions, according to officials, were carried out under the command of Naikoo in retaliation to the arrest of his father and many other kin of the militants. "This operation earned Naikoo a different sort of notoriety within the security grid," an official said.
Before joining Hizb ranks, he worked as a Mathematics teacher for more than three years before he became active as a militant in June 2012. A category A++ militant Naikoo was openly pro-Pakistan and effectively handled the friction of Hizb with its splinter group Al Qaeda-inspired Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind (AGH) led by slain militant Zakir Bhat aka Musa.
Naikoo currently operated as divisional commander of Hizb, the oldest operational militant network in the region, and controlled the militant operations of the outfit after taking the reins from former commanders Yasin Yatoo and Burhan Wani who were killed in 2017 and 2016 respectively.
A senior official said with the killing of Naikoo, most of Hizb's "popular cadre" from South Kashmir has been eliminated. The main reason for the popularity of this cadre including that of Naikoo, according to officials, was their active presence in the cyber domain as well.
According to an official police statement, Naikoo had been continuously making audio and video clips and putting up on social media to motivate youth to join militancy and went on recruiting new boys.
“He was a masterminded behind the revival of HM outfit in Jammu and Kashmir. He also released videos/audios on a number of occasions carrying pro-Pakistan and separatist propaganda,” the police said.
“Naikoo according to police had executed a series of attacks on policemen, SF and civilians. He resorted to brutal killings of civilians branding them as informers,” the police said.
Following his killing, the top command is likely to be overtaken by another local militant, Saifullah, the security officials believe.
In another incident, two militants believed to be affiliated with Lashkar e Taiba outfit were killed at Sarshali in Awantipora area of South Kashmir.
Nearly a dozen militants have been killed since the past week and as many as eight security personnel have been killed in violence across the Kashmir Valley region. Violence in Kashmir has continued in Kashmir despite the worldwide coronavirus outbreak which has claimed seven lives in the region.
The Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbagh Singh earlier on Tuesday said the counter-insurgency operations will be further intensified across Kashmir until everyone in the militant ranks is killed.
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