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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

Zakir Musa gang wiped out: Jammu and Kashmir police

Identified as Hamid Lelhari, the militant commander took over reins of the group after the killing of Zakir Musa on May 23, the police said.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2019 01:16 IST
Mir Ehsan
Mir Ehsan
Hindustan Times, Srinagar
People attend the funeral procession of Zakir Musa's successor and chief of Kashmir's al-Qaeda unit, Hamid Lelhari, who was killed along with other two top commanders in Awantipora encounter at Kakapora in Pulwama.
People attend the funeral procession of Zakir Musa's successor and chief of Kashmir's al-Qaeda unit, Hamid Lelhari, who was killed along with other two top commanders in Awantipora encounter at Kakapora in Pulwama.(Photo: PTI)
         

Jammu & Kashmir Police and army troops have killed the chief commander of Ansar Gazwatul Hind, an al-Qaida affiliate, and two of his associates in a gunbattle in south Kashmir’s Awantipore area, scoring a major success in the fight against militancy, the police said.

Identified as Hamid Lelhari, the militant commander took over reins of the group after the killing of Zakir Musa on May 23, the police said.

Lelhari, who was carrying a reward on his head, and the two associates were hiding in a house in Rajpora village when the police and army troops launched a joint operation in the area on Tuesday evening, acting on specific information about their presence.

The encounter ended Tuesday night. The other two militants killed in the encounter were identified as Junaid Rashid and Naveed.

Lelhari, according to the police, had been active in south Kashmir since 2016. After the killing of the three militants, Jammu & Kashmir officials claimed that Ansar Gazwatul Hind had been left with no active militants in the Valley.

Director general of police Dilbag Singh said that initially one of the militants was thought to be a local and two were suspected to be foreigners. “Late last night, the slain militants were identified as locals. They all were affiliated with Ansar Gazawatul Hind,” Singh said.

Singh said a large quantity of arms and ammunition was recovered from these militants which included three AK 47 rifles.

After Musa was killed in an encounter with security forces, command of the group was handed to Lelhari, Singh said. “He (Lelhari) motivated many people to join this group and got two more militants motivated in joining the group. All three militants belonged to Awantipore-Pulwama belt and were working in coordination with Jaish nowadays.”

“For the time being, this group has been wiped out,” he said.

DGP Singh said that Lelhari became active in the militant ranks in 2016 and had been involved in many terror activities, including attacks on security forces. “He was also involved in an attack at Kakapora and in the killing of civilian Fayaz Ahmad.”

Singh said the group was actively operating in Awantipore and Kakapora.The brother of Lelhari’s associate Junaid Rashid, who died in Tuesday’s encounter, had also been a militant and killed in a shoot-out with security forces earlier.

Ansar Gazwatul was formed by Zakir Musa after he parted ways with Hizbul Mujahideen. A civil engineering student, Musa left studies and joined the Hizbul in 2013. He was a close associate of Hizb commander Burhan Wani, who was killed in 2016.

This was the second success for security forces in south Kashmir in recent days, after the Centre on August 5 moved to strip Jammu & Kashmir of its special status and decided to divide the state into Union territories — J&K and Ladakh. Last week, three local Lashkar-e-Taiba militants were killed in an encounter at Pazpora Bijbhera in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.

Five operations by security forces have taken place in Kashmir since August 5 in which nine militants have been killed. In comparison, 30 militants were killed in at least 21 encounters with security forces in the months of June and July during which 14 security forces also lost their lives. Four militants and an army man were also killed in the first four days of August.

Jammu & Kashmir Police also said there had been a perceptible decline in the number of young Kashmiri men joining the militants ranks since the Centre in August moved to divest the state of its special status, belying the police’s expectations of an increase.

“It’s a matter of happiness that the rate of youth joining militant ranks is less as compared to the same time period earlier,” Singh, who was flanked by inspector general of Kashmir SP Pani at a press conference, said, without citing any figures.

Singh said only a few youngsters had joined the militancy after August 5. “The youth who have been missing from their homes are only five or six and it can’t be said they all have joined militancy. Maybe there will be some other factors for the youths leaving their homes.”

He said that Pakistan was concerned with the decline in militancy-related incidents in Kashmir and efforts are being made every day to push more and more militants into the state. “There has been some infiltration but many such attempts were foiled. This time also the ceasefire violations are going in Poonch, Hira Nagar, Samba, Karnah, Uri, Machil, Keran, Gurez; now it’s happening every day and whenever there is a ceasefire violation from Pakistan, they try to push militants into J&K,” he said.

The DGP said he was not in a position to reveal how many militants had managed to enter Jammu & Kashmir since August 5, but the number was sizeable.

On the arrests in Kashmir, Singh said four of every five people held in the state were being released. “ We have not kept people in custody unnecessarily. All the action was aimed at maintenance of public order.” He said that after counselling them, the security forces were letting detainees off.