IN A major breakthrough for security forces in Kashmir, six “foreign” militants, including the nephew of Lashkar-e-Toiba chief and alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, were killed in a gunbattle on Saturday in north Kashmir’s Hajin area.
Officials said the operation also resulted in the death of an IAF Garud commando and injuries to a soldier from 13 Rashtriya Rifles. J&K DGP S P Vaid said, “Six LeT terrorists including two commanders, Mehmood and Zargam, were eliminated, and weapons and ammunition recovered from them.’’
Vaid confirmed that one of the militants killed was Owaid alias Osama, 25, the son of Lakhvi’s brother Zaki-ur-Rehman Makki. Police sources said Owaid had entered the Valley last year through Kupwara or Gurez, along with a group of militants. He was active in north Kashmir before zeroing in on the Hajin area this year, they said.
Another of the militants killed was identified as Mehmood Bhai, the in-charge of LeT operations in north Kashmir and operating in the Hajin area over the last year. Police and the Army had launched several operations in Hajin and Bandipore to trap Mehmood and other LeT militants active there. Sources said that a third militant who was killed, Zargam, was active in the Ganderbal area. Mehmood and Zargam are believed to have been active in the Valley since 2015.
Police are trying to establish the identities of the three other militants killed. The Garud commando, who died in the gunbattle, has been identified as Corporal Jyoti Prakash Nirala, 31, from Badiladih village in Bihar’s Rohtas district. He is survived by his wife and a three-year-old daughter.
Over the last 10 days, J&K Police and Rashtriya Rifles had launched several “cordon and search” operations in Hajin and adjacent villages after receiving inputs about the movement of foreign militants in the area. On Saturday afternoon, officials said, the Special Operation Group of J&K Police and 13 RR established a cordon around Chandergeer village, 5 km from Hajin town. As the forces started moving in, the militants came out firing from a house.
The Garud commando died in the gunbattle that ensued before all the six militants were killed. Police sources said the militants may have gathered in the house for a meeting. Defence spokesperon Col Rajesh Kalia told The Indian Express that the operation was launched jointly by 13 RR and J&K Police after specific information about militant presence in the area was received.
The Indian Express had reported on September 21 that Owaid alias Osama was the third member of Lakhvi’s family to join the LeT’s ranks and be part of its operations in Kashmir. His elder brother Musaib was killed in an encounter in the Hajin area of Bandipore district in January this year. In 2007, Lakhvi’s 20-year-old son Mohammad Qasim was killed in a gunbattle with the Army and J&K police.
In the first week of November, a nephew of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar was killed in Aglar village along with another local militant, with forces recovering a US-made M4 rifle from the encounter site. This is the first time that two close relatives of Pakistan-based commanders of LeT and JeM were killed by security forces in a month.
This is also the second time that IAF’s Garud force has suffered fatalities in security operations in north Kashmir. In October, two Garud commandos died in an operation in Hajin. According to officials, foreign militants sneaking across the border from Gurez and Nowgam have been using Hajin as a transit point before moving to south Kashmir.
“With the killing of these six militants, the Lashkar is almost finished in the Hajin belt,” said a senior officer.