In a major success for security forces, Hizbul Mujahideen operations chief Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo, one of the most wanted militants in the Valley, was killed on Wednesday during a gunbattle in his village in Awantipora in South Kashmir.
Kashmir IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar told The Indian Express: “Yes, we have killed him. He was killed along with his aide in an encounter in Awantipora.” Police have not yet identified Naikoo’s associate.
Kumar said the killing of Naikoo was a major breakthrough for security agencies in the Valley. “This is the biggest success for J&K Police and other security forces,” he said. “In 10 days, we have been able to neutralise chiefs of Hizb and AGH (Ansar Ghazwatul Hind). Our anti-terrorism operations will continue.”
Naikoo was behind numerous attacks in the Valley — more recently, the killing of migrant workers and fruit traders — and the abduction of police personnel and their families.
His killing comes days after a string of militant attacks on security forces. In the past one month, 18 security personnel, including a Colonel and Major, have lost their lives in gunbattles in the Valley.
On Tuesday night, J&K Police, Army and paramilitary forces cordoned off Beighpora village, from where Naikoo hailed, on specific intelligence that he was there in a hideout.
Security forces searched through the night and traced him Wednesday morning. Police sources said Naikoo and his associate opened fire when the hideout was discovered.
“When we challenged them, they fired at us, triggering a gunfight,” a police officer said. “After the initial exchange of fire, they shifted to a nearby house and continued firing.”
Soon after the first exchange of fire, word spread that Naikoo had been trapped. People from Beighpora and adjoining villages tried to rush to the encounter site to help the militants escape. But police and paramilitary forces stopped them, and this led to protests and clashes.
In Srinagar, Dr Nazir Chowdary, Medical Superintendent of SMHS Hospital, said the hospital had received 16 injured civilians.
Internet services were snapped across the Valley and by afternoon, mobile services too were partially affected. Naikoo’s killing is a major setback for the Hizbul Mujahideen which had returned to the centrestage of militancy under his operational command.
Ever since his rise up the militant ranks, he had been on the radar of police and intelligence agencies.
Sources said he managed to stay elusive using the Virtual Private Network (VPN) to communicate and that he rarely used a phone. He preferred a secure messaging platform called Bat Messenger, with a username Williamson which he also used on other communication platforms.
But over the last few days, sources said, police began tracking a phone number which they suspected belonged to Naikoo.
“It was unusual for him to use a regular phone. He committed a mistake and his phone number emerged on the radar of the police. A search operation was launched, based on that technical input. Prolonged cordon and a minute search led to the discovery of his hideout,” police sources said.
In a separate encounter between militants and security forces in Awantipora Tuesday night, two unidentified militants were killed.
The gunbattle began after the security forces cordoned off Sarshali village in Khrew. “So far 02 unidentified terrorists killed. Search operation going on. Further details shall follow,” Kashmir Police tweeted.
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