Azas Ahmed Malik, an accused in the killing of senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari, was among six militants killed in a pre-dawn operation Friday by a joint team of Army, paramilitary and J&K Police in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. According to J&K Police, Malik was among three militant commanders in the group that was killed in the operation. Hailing from Arwani Bijbehara, Malik is said to have been the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s (LeT) district commander for Anantnag.
The militants were killed during a gun battle after the joint team cordoned off the Sekipora area in Bijbehara and launched a “cordon and search operation” based on a tip-off, police said.
Bukhari, the editor of Rising Kashmir, was gunned down outside his office in Srinagar, along with his two personal security officers in June this year. J&K Police had then released CCTV footage of three attackers on a motorcycle and said that Naveed Jatt, a Pakistani national, and two local militants — Malik and Muzaffar Ahmad alias Talha from Qazigund — were behind the assassination.
Apart from Malik, alias Dada, J&K police identified those killed as Unais Shafi of Takiya Bal Bijbehara, Basit Ishtiyaq of Pushwara Anantnag, Atif Najar of Waghama Bijbehara, Firdous Ahmad of Muchpuna Pulwama and Shahid Bashir of Kawni Awantipora. According to police, Unais was Hizb-ul Mujahideen’s district commander in Anantnag, and Firdous was district commander of Pulwama for LeT. “All the killed six terrorists were wanted by the law for their complicity in a series of terror crimes including attack on security establishments and civilian atrocities,” the statement said, adding that a “huge quantity of arms & ammunition including 4 AK47 rifles and one Insas rifle were recovered from the site of the encounter”.
Malik, police said, had escaped from an encounter site in nearby Kulgam district in April this year. Police sources described his killing as a “big success” as he was an “important man” of LeT. Several videos had appeared on social media in which Naveed Jatt and Dada were seen together. “He was very close to Naveed,” said a senior police officer in south Kashmir. Police sources said that Malik joined militancy at the end of 2016, following which he was seen in a picture on social media posing with a US-made rifle.
“This was an intelligence-based operation, which was swiftly conducted in a difficult area, and it concluded without any collateral damage,” IGP Kashmir S P Pani told The Indian Express. Residents told The Indian Express that the firing started around 2 am and continued for a while. Following the encounter, clashes broke out between stone-pelting youth and security forces in various parts of Anantnag district.
Speaking to reporters, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 15 Corps, A K Bhat, said: “It was a surgical operation in which there was complete cooperation between Army and police. This encounter was carried out in little time, with no casualty and no civilian damage. That is why police are saying it was a successful operation.”