The Jammu and Kashmir police on Sunday said security forces have killed a top Hizbul Mujahideen commander during a gun-battle in Sopore, a claim which was rejected by the separatists who alleged the militant was shot dead in a fake encounter.
Mohammad Shafi Sheikh, 45, a divisional commander of Hizbul Mujahideen was killed in an encounter at Seelo village, about five kilometres from Sopore town.
“During the intervening night of 15-16 February, acting on a tip off, Sopore police and 22 Rashtriya Rifles launched a cordon and search operation in Bhat Mohalla, Seeloo,” the cops said in a statement said. “The joint search party was fired upon. The fire was retaliated in which the militant was killed”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Abdul Qayoom, Sopore SP, noted: “He was an old militant and had been categorized as A+”. Police said that a pistol and a grenade were recovered from him.
Separatist leader and Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, however, alleged that the militant commander was killed in police custody. “It was an extra-judicial killing,” Geelani said in a statement. “The villagers say that he (Shafi) was brought there (Seelo) and killed in a fake encounter”.
According to police, Shafi crossed the Line of Control in 1995 for arms training and returned three years later. The militant was first arrested in 2003 and booked under Public Safety Act, however, after his release a year later, he joined Hizbul Mujahideen, sources said. Shafi was again arrested in 2006 and after his release in 2008, he recycled into militant ranks.
Police officials said Shafi was an IED expert and involved in the killings of several security personnel. The militant allegedly played roles in the killings of constable Mohammad Shafi Lone, SPO Altaf Ahmad, head constable Mohammad Yousuf and two Central Reserve Police Force jawans in Pattan and was behind the blast at the Sopore police station in 2011.