Protests erupted across Kashmir on Friday after Burhan Wani, the 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander who was tagged as the poster boy on social media of militancy in the Valley, was shot dead along with two other militants by security forces and police in Bumdoora village, 85 km south of Srinagar.
By Friday night, protesters had gathered along the Srinagar-Anantnag highway, burning tyres and stopping vehicles, and funeral prayers were offered for the slain militants in several areas. Announcements were also made on public address systems with youths raising slogans in support of Wani.
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Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani and JKLF chairman Yasin Malik called for a strike to protest the killing. Geelani also asked people to participate in Wani’s funeral “in large numbers”.
The PDP-BJP state government imposed a curfew in South Kashmir and cut access to Internet services in many areas.
Officials said Burhan was shot dead during a joint operation launched at around 4.30 pm by the Special Operation Group of J&K police and 19 Rashtriya Rifles in the Kokernag area of South Kashmir.
“Three militants, including Burhan Wani, were hiding in the house of one Farooq Ahmad. As the troops started search operations in the area, the militants opened fire. In the encounter that followed, Wani and his two associates were killed. The operation is still underway,” a senior police officer told The Indian Express.
Sources said the operation was based on a specific input gathered even as police were tracking Wani’s movement over the last few days. They identified one of the other militants killed as Sartaj Ahmad. One policeman was injured in the operation, they said.
“It is a big success for security forces and a setback to militancy,” said Inspector General of Police Javid Mujtaba Gilani. An army spokesman confirmed that Wani and two other militants were killed in a joint operation.
Omar Abdullah, former J&K chief minister and National Congress leader, said in a series of tweets: “If this is confirmed its big news & will also mean some tense days in parts of the valley… Alas Burhan is not the first to pick the gun and won’t be the last. JKNC has always maintained that a political problem needs political solution.’’
The son of a school headmaster, Wani was the most high-profile militant operating in the Valley, and had recently warned policemen of attacks and threatened to target the proposed Sainik colonies for security personnel in the state.
Last year, the army had gunned down his elder brother, Khalid Muzuffar, in the forests of Tral where he had gone to meet Wani who had left home in 2010.
Wani made the headlines in 2014 for the photographs he had posted on social media of himself and other militants wearing army fatigues and carrying Kalashnikovs. Officials said he led a group of 11 to 15 local militants based in the forests of South Kashmir and carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head.
Wani had received a setback just two months ago when one of his close associates, Tariq Pandit, surrendered in Pulwama. Pandit was among those who figured in a photograph of the group that went viral on social media. After the surrender, he is believed to have given police vital information on Wani’s tactics and hideouts leading to several arrests.
In June, Wani had admitted in a video statement that Pandit was in custody and that many of his associates had been picked by police. Over the last 30 days, he had released two videos of him in army fatigues — in one, he had warned of attacks on Sanik colonies and in another he was seen playing cricket with other militants at an undisclosed location.