Since the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani, in an encounter at Kokernag on July 8 last year, and the subsequent violence that left over 90 people, mostly civilians, dead, over 100 youth have joined militancy, according to J&K police. The result has been a sharp spike in the number of attacks on armed forces and casualties inflicted on them. In the last 10 months, however, security forces have regained some lost ground, mainly through Operation All Out, launched by the Army and police, through which they have killed 11 top commanders of the Lashkar and Hizbul Mujahideen in different parts of the Valley. Top officials claim they are close to making these militant groups leaderless.
Abu Dujana (Lashkar-e-Taiba)
Killed at Harkipora village along with another local militant on August 1, 2017
The 26-year-old was one of the most well-known Lashkar commanders in south Kashmir and used to operate in the villages of Pulwama. At the time of his killing, he had already parted ways with Lashkar and had joined the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, the affiliate of the Al Qaeda in Kashmir, under Zakir Musa. A resident of Gilgit-Baltistan, Dujana had sneaked into the Valley around six years ago. He was initially based out of north Kashmir, before permanently shifting base to the south, where he married a local woman. After the killing of Burhan Wani, he had attended a few protest gatherings wearing a mask and had even made a brief speech at a “martyrs’ cemetery” in Karimabad, Pulwama, on August 1, 2016. Dujana was a close associate of LeT commander Abu Qasim, who was killed in 2015, and who he succeeded as operational commander. Described as a “brainy militant,” he was in the police’s A+++ category of militants and carried a bounty of Rs 15 lakh. Security agencies believe that he was the mastermind behind several attacks in south Kashmir, such as the one on a CRPF convoy at Pampore and another at the Entrepreneurship Development Institute in Sempora.
Circumstances of killing: After his elevation as Lashkar’s operational commander, Dujana came under the radar of several security agencies. More than a dozen security operations were conducted in south Kashmir to nab him, but he managed to escape every time. He was finally killed at Hakripora village in Pulwama. During the encounter, an Army officer asked Dujana to surrender for the sake of his family and promised that he won’t be harmed but the militant decided to fight it out and was killed. The conversation between Dujana and officer was leaked and went viral on social media.
Abu Ismail (Lashkar-e-Taiba)
Killed in the outskirts of Srinagar on September 14, 2017
The 23-year-old Pakistan national was a Lashkar operational commander who, police say, was behind the Amarnath Yatra attack this July that claimed eight lives. Ismail, who had infiltrated into the Valley four to five years ago, was designated as an operation commander after Dujana, whom he was close to, joined the Zakir Musa group. Though Ismail was killed in Srinagar, he was mostly active in south Kashmir. His death, officials say, has left Lashkar leaderless in south Kashmir.
Circumstances of killing: After the Amarnath attack, Ismail came under the radar of security forces. To evade them, he frequently shifted bases between villages of south Kashmir. He was killed in a swift intelligence-based operation, based on specific information, at Aaribagh on the outskirts of Srinagar on September 14. His associate Chota Qasim, also a foreigner, was also killed in the encounter.
Bashir Lashkari (Lashkar-e-Taiba)
Killed at Dailgam village of Anantnag district on July 1, 2017
Bashir Ahmad Wani alias Bashir Lashkari alias Abu Ukasha was one of the prominent local commanders of Lashkar in south Kashmir. The 28-year-old was believed to have been involved in the killing of Station House Officer Feroz Ahmad Dar and five other policemen in Anantnag district.
Among the oldest militants, Wani was in the ‘A+++ category’ and carried a bounty of over Rs 10 lakh. Arrested twice and released, Wani joined Lashkar in 2015 and rose to become a district commander. He was pivotal in recruiting youngsters to the outfit and had acted as bridge between Lashkar and other groups operating in south Kashmir. Circumstances of killing: The search for Wani intensified after the six policemen were killed. Several of his hideouts were raided including his native village of Sopshali in Kokernag. When security forces surrounded him at Dialgam, two civilians were also killed in protests when villagers attempted to provide him a safe passage by disrupting operations.
Yasin Yatoo alias Mehmood Ghaznavi (Hizbul Mujahideen)
Killed at Awnera village in Shopian on August 13, 2017
The 44-year-old Hizbul operational commander joined militancy in 1996. Arrested and released several times, Yatoo was once part of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and used to make speeches at mosques. He went underground in 2015, before joining the Hizbul Mujahideen. An “old hand’’ well versed in guerrilla warfare, Yatoo was the liaison between the outfit’s leadership and cadre on the ground. His death is a major setback for the Hizbul Mujahideen, especially as it came at a time when it was trying to prevent the rise of Zakir Musa, the breakaway militant who has set up Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind.
Circumstances of killing: In 2016, Yatoo faked his death and funeral prayers were held at his native place. But once police realised they had been misled, he was back in their cross-hairs. He was killed in a night-long gun battle at Awnera village in Shopian after police had received an input that five to six commanders had gone to meet a person who had been released by police. For the first time, militants from outside the security cordon attacked security forces in a bid to save Yatoo, but they failed.
Ayub Lelhari (Lashkar-e-Taiba)
Killed at a checkpoint on a south Kashmir highway on August 16, 2017
Lelhari, 25, was the Lashkar’s Pulwama district commander. Before he joined the outfit in 2015, the 25-year-old was a driver who used to ferry militants from one place to another. He was exposed by an arrested militant and was forced to go underground. Lelhari had been vital to Ismail, who succeeded Dujana as operational commander, as he kept a tab on the outfit’s operations, especially the movement of foreign cadre. With his killing, Lashkar has lost one of its main recruiters in Pulwama district.
Circumstances of killing:The Special Operation Group along with the Army had set up a check point on the Banderpora-Kakapora road. When the vehicle in which Lelhari was travelling was stopped, two others sitting with him escaped. Lelhari was shot dead. A day earlier, he had been injured in an encounter at neighboring Samboora village and was being constantly tracked by the forces.
Sabzar Ahmad Bhat (Hizbul Mujahideen)
Killed at Saimoo, Tral, along with Faizaan Muzaffar, 15, on May 27, 2017
Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, 27, was tipped as Burhan Wani’s successor. The burly charismatic Hizb commander joined the outfit in 2015 on the day the Army killed Burhan Wani’s older brother Muzaffar. It was while participating in Muzaffar’s funeral procession in Tral that Bhat reportedly snatched a rifle from a CRPF personnel guarding a bunker, before going underground. Within a short period, Bhat gained Wani’s trust and became one of his close associates.
Popular among the youth, especially after his photographs with Wani went viral on social media, Bhat had a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head and operated in and around Tral. Before joining militant ranks, Bhat was allegedly involved in a car theft. His killing created a leadership vacuum for militants in the Tral area.
Circumstances of killing: Police began zeroing in on Bhat and Zakir Musa, as they feared that he could turn out to be another Burhan type leader. He was killed along with another militant, 15- year-old Faizan Muzaffar. A civilian too was killed and 60 injured when protesters tried to march towards the encounter site to save him.
Junaid Mattoo (Lashkar-e-Taiba)
Killed at Arwani on June 16, 2017
A resident of Khudwani Kulgam, the 24-year-old Mattoo was one of the two militants who attacked and killed two policemen with AK-47s in Anantnag. He was designated as the Lashkar’s district commander after the attack. Police blame Mattoo for killing several policemen in south Kashmir. According to police, he also helped the outfit’s foreign cadre to hide in villages of south Kashmir.
Circumstances of killing: Acting on a tip-off, forces secured a perimeter around a house where militants were hiding in Arwani village’s Malik Mohalla. During the encounter, locals began protesting against security forces, prompting the latter to open fire on the crowd in which two civilians were killed. Forces eventually used IEDs to raze the building; the entire operation lasting over nine hours. Mattoo was killed along with two of his Lashkar associates, Adil Nisar and Mushtaq Ahmad.
Muzaffar Ahmad Naikoo alias Muz Molvi (Al Badr)
Killed in Srinagar on January 16
When 38-year-old Naikoo was killed, he was acting as a lone wolf on behalf of Al Badr, a banned terror outfit based in Pakistan, after having parted ways with Lashkar. A resident of north Kashmir’s Sopore town, Naikoo was active as a militant for over a decade. He was designated as an A++ category militant and police claim he was involved in many killings especially in Sopore and its adjacent villages. Naikoo had joined Lashkar in 2008 and was a close associate of then Lashkar operational commander, Abdullah Uni, who was killed in 2011. Naikoo’s killing is a setback for Al Badr and its plans to gain a foothold in the Valley.
Circumstances of killing: Acting on specific information, J&K police along with the Army launched an operation at Bagh-e-Mehtab locality in Srinagar. Naikoo was killed in a brief encounter.
Pervaz Ahmad (Hizbul Mujahideen)
Killed at Check-e-Brath village along with another militant on September 4, 2017.
A resident of Galoora village near Handwara, Pervaz joined militancy in 2015. In the 18 months that he was a militant, he had reorganised the outfit in several parts of north Kashmir. Pervaz had filled the void left by Qayoom Najar, one of the oldest militants in north Kashmir, who left the Hizbul Mujahideen citing differences. Although it is now being said that Qayoom is back with the outfit, Ahmad’s death is big setback for the Mujahideen in north Kashmir, where it once boasted of good cadre strength.
Circumstances of killing: Having tracked him for several weeks, police cornered Ahmad inside a house at Check-e-Brath along with another local militant. The two were killed in a three-hour encounter.
Aquib Molvi (Hizbul Mujahideen)
Killed in an encounter at Tral on March 5, 2017
In his late 20s, Aquib Molvi was among those thought of as a successor to Burhan Wani. Known for his eloquence, he was also considered to be a religious “expert.” Molvi, who had appeared in several videos and photographs, joined militancy in 2013 after his neighbour Shabir Ahmad, another top militant, was killed in an operation. He rose to become one of the influential Hizbul commanders in south Kashmir. At the time of his death, he had be working to co-ordinate between different militant groups operating in south Kashmir.
Circumstances of killing: Molvi was killed in an joint operation between the Army and police at Nazneen Pora village in Tral. Another casualty of the 15-hour encounter was a foreign militant identified as Osama of the Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Abu Musaib (Lashkar-e-Taiba)
Killed at Hajin in north Kashmir on January 19, 2017
Abu Musaib was the nephew of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operations chief and Mumbai attack mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. He had infiltrated into the Valley in August 2015 and was the Lashkar divisional commander in North Kashmir. He had been operating in Bandipore and Ganderbal district. Police say he was the mastermind of an attack on a CRPF convoy at Nowhatta in Srinagar in which a commandant was killed in 2016. With Musaib’s death, the Lashkar has lost a link to its local cadre.
Circumstances of killing: The militant commander was killed at Para mollah locality at Hajin. An army soldier was injured in the shootout.