Hizb top commander among three militants killed in two encounters
Pvt phones, mobile internet suspended in Valley; several injured in post-encounter clashes
Srinagar: Top commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, Reyaz Naikoo was killed on Wednesday by security forces in his village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district during an encounter, police said.
Anticipating a law and order problem, authorities suspended mobile telephone services of private operators and mobile internet services across the Valley.
Security forces engaged with militants in two gunbattles in the Pulwama district, one in Sharshalli village where two unidentified militants were killed and the other in Beighpora in Awantipora where they finally killed Naikoo who was holed up with another militant, police said.
His accomplice attempted to escape by charging at security forces but was also killed.
The gunning down of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander, a major breakthrough in the fight against militancy, comes three days after eight security personnel, including two Army officers Colonel Ashutosh Sharma and Major Anuj Sood, were killed in Handwara.
News of the killing of 35-year-old Naikoo, who carried a reward of Rs 12 lakh on his head and had escaped the police dragnet thrice, led to some incidents of people pelting stones at security forces.
Sources said that people assembled near the encounter site and some youths started pelting stones on security forces. Some security forces’ vehicles too were attacked by stone pelters.
Sources further said that several protestors were injured during the clashes with security forces.
Quoting officials, PTI reported that two people sustained bullet injuries but were taken to hospital and were stable.
There were reports of clashes between security forces and stone pelters from Soura area of Srinagar too. Sources said that as the news of Naikoo’s death spread, groups of youth took to streets and pelted stones on security forces deployed there to ensure lockdown in the wake of Covid-19.
Security forces fired tear smoke shells to disperse the protestoors, however, no injuries from either side were reported when this report was being filled.
Giving details about the two operations, a police spokesman said that on specific inputs two cordon and search operations were launched by J&K Police and SF at Sarshali and Beigpora in Awantipora.
These cordon and search operations led to encounters as the hiding militants fired upon the operation parties and during these encounters four militants were neutralized, he said.
The spokesman said that in Sharshali encounter two militants of LeT were killed. The identification of killed militants is being ascertained. Incriminating material including arms and ammunition were recovered from the site of encounter.
He said that in the second operation in Beigpora village of Awantipur district, a top militant commander was trapped along with his associate. The operation was launched last evening and contact was established with hiding militants in the morning today.
In this encounter two militants were killed and one of them has been identified as Riyaz Naikoo, said the spokesman, adding, he was the Chief operational Commander of (HM) outfit in Kashmir.
The spokesman said that Naikoo joined militant ranks of HM outfit in May 2012 and 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 responsible for a large number of innocent youths getting into militant ranks and indulging in serious violence against local population and SF.
He was a masterminded behind the revival of HM outfit in jammu and Kashmir. He also released videos / audios on number of occasions carrying Pro-Pakistan and separatist propaganda, said the spokesman.
“He executed a series of attacks on policemen, SF and civilians. He resorted to brutal killings of civilians branding them as police/SF informers.
“He looted orchard owners and farmers to collect funds for his outfit. He also has been collecting booty from illicit cultivation of opium and bhang in South Kashmir. His outfit also figured in narco trade case in Jammu where a huge sum of sale proceeds was transferred to one of his contacts,” said the spokesman.
From a maths teacher to a calculative militant, Reyaz Naikoo had a charmed existence as a militant for eight years before he was killed by security forces on Wednesday in a gunbattle lasting five hours.
Naikoo escaped the security dragnet several times before he lost the battle in his native village Beighpora, 40 kms from here, on Wednesday afternoon.
His first ‘daily diary’ entry in police records at Awantipora, which is part of Pulwama district of South Kashmir, dates back to June 6, 2012, two weeks after he had disappeared from his home at Beighpora village.
From teaching maths, a subject he loved, at a private school to joining the militancy, Naikoo, who had 11 cases against him and carried a cash reward of Rs 12 lakh, was a loner as he seldom trusted anyone within his outfit, says a senior police officer.
Naikoo, who was tech savvy, kept himself away from limelight and allowed Burhan Wani to take the centre stage after 2014. Post Wani’s elimination, he kept himself away from the internal politics of the group and allowed Sabzar Ahmed and later Zakir Musa to take over the reigns of the outfit.
While Sabzar was neutralised within few weeks after Wani’s death in July 2016, Musa split from the Hizbul Mujahideen group and formed his own Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, in 2017, leaving a vacuum in the militant group which was filled by Naikoo.
Naikoo was calculative in his operation and his next move was only known to him. Being tech savvy, he never left any electronic trail about his movement, said the police official who had been tracking him for many months.
Naikoo, completed his graduation from Government Degree College in Pulwama and started teaching in a private school before he was detained by security forces during the unrest of 2010 and released in 2012.
Naikoo was a changed man and after his release and in third week of May 2012, he left his home and never returned there, till he shot into prominence in 2016 when he made a dramatic appearance at the funeral of a militant in Shopian carrying a Kalashnikov rifle.
There, he had fired several shots in the air, thus starting a trend of giving gun salute to militants who were killed in encounters with security forces.
His movements were generally noticed in Dogripora, Brawbandia, Banderpora, Litter, Chakoora and Chandgam, Renzipora along the axis of Awantipora to Shopian in South Kashmir.
Naikoo gave anxious moments to police in September 2018 when he picked up 11 relatives of police officers after his father was detained by the police. He was subsequently released and so were the hostages, leaving the police officials red faced.
The four bodies would not be handed over to the families in accordance with the new protocol in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic and would be buried by police, officials said.