Syed Salahuddin
Syed Salahuddin

Syed Salahuddin: From political science student in Kashmir to ‘global terrorist’

Salahuddin is also the chief of the United Jihad Council, an umbrella organisation of all militant groups fighting for the secession of Kashmir.
By Abhishek Saha | Hindustan Times, Srinagar
UPDATED ON JUN 27, 2017 04:41 PM IST

Before Mohammed Yusuf Shah became militant commander and chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen Syed Salahuddin, the native of central Kashmir’s Budgam district was a well-known Islamic scholar and preacher affiliated to the Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious socio-political organisation.

Salahuddin, who was designated as a global terrorist by the US State Department on Monday hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi met US president Donald Trump, was born in 1946.

He graduated from the SP College in Srinagar and received a master’s degree in political science from the Kashmir University in 1971, reports say. His Islamic sermons on Fridays at Exhibition Ground in Srinagar were quite popular, senior residents recount.

He contested the 1987 Jammu and Kashmir assembly election on a Muslim United Front (MUF) ticket, from the Amirakadal constituency in Srinagar and lost. National Conference’s Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah won the election, which was marred by controversy over allegations of rigging.

Salahuddin and other student leaders such as the current Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Yasin Malik were arrested soon after and kept in prison for months. After his release, he is said to have drifted to militancy and took over as the chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen in 1991 and adopted his nom de guerre after the 12th-century sultan of Egypt and Syria and a crusader, Saladin.

Salahuddin is also the chief of the United Jihad Council (UJC), an umbrella organisation of all militant groups fighting for the secession of Kashmir based out of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.

In this June 28, 2008 photo, suspected Pakistani mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, prays with Syed Salahuddin, chief of Hizbul Mujahideen at a rally in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. (AP File Photo)
In this June 28, 2008 photo, suspected Pakistani mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, prays with Syed Salahuddin, chief of Hizbul Mujahideen at a rally in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. (AP File Photo)

It’s pertinent to note that Malik was Shah’s polling agent in the 1987 election, said a senior Srinagar-based journalist. He added that some other prominent student leaders at that time, who went on to introduce militancy in Kashmir such as Ashfaq Wani, Javid Mir and Abdul Hamid Sheikh, were actively involved with the MUF’s election run.

“In September 2016, Salahuddin vowed to block any peaceful resolution to the Kashmir conflict, threatened to train more Kashmiri suicide bombers, and vowed to turn the Kashmir valley “into a graveyard for Indian forces.” Under Salahuddin’s tenure as senior HM leader, HM has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including the April 2014 explosives attack in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, which injured 17 people,” the US Department of State said in the media note, declaring Salahuddin as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT).

The Hizbul under Salahuddin’s leadership has been involved in numerous militant attacks on Indian security forces across the valley. Popular new age militants of Kashmir, including Burhan Wani and Sabzar Bhat were members of this outfit. Zakir Moosa, the controversial commander, who made headlines after threatening to behead separatist leaders, was also a part of Hizbul but has now parted ways with the outfit following a war of words.

In the last few months, Hizbul has claimed responsibility for a number of major attacks on forces in Kashmir. For instance, the attack on a bank van in Kulgam in May which left five policemen and two bank employees dead. The militant outfit said they had not killed the bank employees nor was the attack aimed at looting cash.

After the abduction and killing of Lieutenant Umar Fayaz in May, the Jammu and Kashmir police released photographs of three Hizbul militants saying they were responsible for the killing of the 22-year-old Indian Army officer in south Kashmir’s Shopian district. The UJC released a statement saying their militants were not involved in the killing.

Some top Hizbul militants currently active in the valley are Mohd Yasin Ittoo, Atlaf Dar and Reyaz Naikoo.

Salahuddin, who now operates from Pakistan, on Monday announced a week-long programme on popular militant Burhan Wani’s first death anniversary. Wani was gunned down in an encounter on July 8 last year. His death triggered one of the worst periods of unrest in Kashmir, where at least 90 civilians were killed in clashes with security personnel.

Former chief of Research and Analysis Wing, India’s foreign intelligence agency, AS Dulat in his book Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years has said that over the years, many a time, Salahuddin had shown a desire to return to India. “We could have brought Salahuddin back, he was willing, but it was just a matter of when to bring him in. One of those things where timing was on a razor’s edge. Perhaps we wasted too much time,” wrote Dulat.

Salahuddin’s wife and his five sons live in Kashmir. One of his sons, Syed Mueed — a 31-year-old information technology manager in the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) — was among the 100-odd civilians evacuated by security forces from institute’s building on Srinagar outskirts when militants had stormed into it last year.

Dulat narrates a story about another son — a doctor — in the book. “One of Salahuddin’s big concerns was his son, who had qualified for medical college admission, but in Jammu, not in Srinagar; possibly the grades required for admission for Srinagar were higher. But the boy and his father were desperate that he somehow gets into Srinagar. So Salahuddin reached out to everyone…” he wrote.

The admission was done with the help of former chief minister and NC leader Farooq Abdullah.

The Hizbul denounced this story when the book came out and Salahuddin’s son, Dr Wahid, told reporters Dulat’s allegations were a “distortion” that sought to “malign the image” of his father.

Dr Wahid said he was selected “on the basis of merit”, and the only “favour” granted was that he was allowed to shift from a Jammu college to Srinagar college because of “security concerns”.

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