Hizbul commander attends militant’s funeral, cautions people about al-Qaeda
Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo was spotted at Sunday’s funeral of an operative of the outfit who was among two militants killed in a shootout with security forces in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
Naikoo, a 30-year-old postgraduate, is said to have told the crowd at the funeral that the Kashmiri separatist movement has nothing to do with global terrorist groups, al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
Thousands of people gathered at the funeral of Shariq Ahmad Sheikh, a resident of Takuna in Pulwama. The other slain militant was Shabir Ahmad Mir of neighbouring Anantnag district.
An army officer said the two were asked to surrender after a cordon-and-search operation on Sunday morning but they rejected and fired at the troopers.
“They tried to escape and were killed in retaliation. An INSAS and an SLR rifle were found on them,” he said.
The killings triggered protests in Pulwama and an unaccounted number of people were wounded in police action to disperse the crowds.
Valley newspaper Greater Kashmir on its website published a picture of Naikoo addressing the mourners and cautioning them about “efforts being made to defame the Kashmir freedom struggle”.
“The Pakistani flag is our flag. Linking our struggle with al-Qaeda and IS is a ploy to defame it,” the news daily quoted Naikoo saying.
His statement came after Zakir Musa, who quit Hizbul in May, was allegedly chosen as the head of Ansar Ghazwat-Ul-Hind by an al-Qaeda-affiliated propaganda channel.
In May, Musa threatened to behead separatist leaders “if they create any hurdles in the path of turning Kashmir into an Islamic state”.
Naikoo, holding a gun and a microphone, said all the people holding the flag of Islam “are not necessarily our own”.
Thereafter, he shouted pro-Pakistan slogans and disappeared.
Naikoo is a contemporary of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani, whose killing last year triggered unprecedented unrest in Kashmir and left more than 80 people dead in clashes with security forces.
The Valley’s separatists as well as Pakistan-based militant groups aiding the decades-old insurgency have rejected the al-Qaeda’s alleged attempt to hijack the movement.
The Hurriyat Conference said the “freedom movement” is indigenous.
“Terrorism and the freedom movement are poles apart,” said a joint statement of Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik last week.
The Pakistan-based Hizbul chief, Syed Salahuddin, who was declared a global terrorist this June by the US, had rejected any role of al-Qaeda in Kashmir. He also heads the United Jihad Council, an umbrella organisation of militant groups.