The Jammu and Kashmir Police have released the photographs of three Hizbul Mujahideen militants they believe were involved in the abduction and killing of 22-year-old Indian Army officer Ummer Fayaz.
Posters with the photographs of the three men can be seen across southern Kashmir, the hotbed of insurgency where the young unarmed lieutenant’s body was found early on Wednesday, a few hours after he was abducted from the wedding ceremony of a cousin in Shopian. He was shot twice.
Police have announced a reward for information leading to the arrest of Ishfaq Ahmad Thokar, Gayas-ul-Islam and Abbas Ahmad Bhat. The three were part of the group that snatched the Rajputana Rifles officer, who hailed from Kulgam in south Kashmir and was home on leave, sources said.
Eyewitnesses said a group of armed men entered the house and took away Fayaz, who was sitting with the bride, as more militants waited outside.
Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba is also suspected to have a hand in the killing, described by the army as a watershed moment that would turn the tide against terrorism in the Valley.
Bhat, who is suspected to be the kingpin, served five years in a murder case, officials said. He was in the first year of his college at the time of his arrest and was out on bail when he went missing in September 2016.
He comes from Matribugh, a village which is a few kilometers away from Fayaz’s home in Kulgam.
The other two, said sources, were new recruits. Thokar is suspected to have joined the Hizb in September 2015 and Gayas-ul-Islam, code name Fahad, followed him 13 months later.
The three are also suspects in the killing of a lawyer associated with National Conference.
“There is no central command. The modules work more or less independently of one another,” a senior official said.
Sources said some Hizb militants had tried to contact the soldier’s family denying their role in the killing. The soldier’s father, Fayaz Ahmed, is an apple-grower.
Police say around 200 militants are operating in the Valley and 88 of them hail from south Kashmir.
Kashmir’s inspector general of police Javeed Gillani said on Thursday investigators found two empty cases of Insas rifle cartridges that were probably snatched from policemen a few days ago.
Insas rifles are used by police and the army in the Valley for counter-insurgency operations.
Gillani had refused to give the names of the suspects. “A local Hizbul Mujahideen module was involved. We have identified the militants but can’t give out names right now,’’ he said.
“Although police are yet to receive the post-mortem report but those who examined the body of the officer said there were no torture marks.’’
Fayaz’s killing is the latest in a series of attacks on security men in the Valley. Five policemen and two bank guards were killed on May 1 when militants attacked a cash van in Kulgam.
The same day two Indian soldiers were beheaded by Pakistan’s notorious border guards who crossed the line of control and attacked a patrol in the border state’s Poonch sector.