Updated: August 25, 2021 12:30:51 pm
In September last year, the Jammu and Kashmir Police declared Srinagar free of militants. In less than six months, the city had nine new recruits — the man who motivated them and got them to join militant ranks was believed to be Mohammad Abbas Sheikh, the militant commander killed in Srinagar on Monday.
One of the oldest militants in the Valley, who joined their ranks in 1996 and was the chief of The Resistance Front (TRF) since last year, Sheikh had kept the security forces on his toes due to his ability to maintain a low profile, melt away into crowds and motivate young men to join militancy. His name figured at the top among the list of 10 most wanted militant commanders, released by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kashmir.
“Though he would not take part in militant acts himself, he was the brain behind them, the man who generated ideas and gave the orders,” said a police officer, who has been closely associated with anti-militancy operations in the Valley.
On Tuesday, three more militants, all belonging to the TRF, were killed in an overnight gunfight in north Kashmir’s Sopore. Police believe the TRF to be a shadow group of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. With this, police said, 102 militants have been killed so far in the Valley this year. Of them, 39 have been killed since July 1 alone.
Sheikh was named in at least 27 militant attacks by police, including killing of policemen, Army personnel and a non-local businessman, Satpal Nischal.
A resident of Rampur village in South Kashmir’s Kulgam, Sheikh joined the Hizbul Mujahideen 25 years ago when he was just 20, and kept returning back to militant ranks despite being arrested twice. Held for the first time in 2004, he was released after a year. In 2007, he was arrested again and spent four years in jail. After his release, he was at home for three years, before going missing again in the spring of 2014.
“This time, he was a different militant,” said the police officer. “With his experience of 15 years, he had learnt how to escape the security radar, and that is why despite the mounting pressure, we had no success for seven years.”
After the unrest following Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing in 2016, Sheikh shifted base from South Kashmir’s Kulgam to Srinagar city, and was said to have been often spotted in Batamaloo area. Last year, Sheikh switched over from the Hizbul Mujahideen to the TRF and became its chief.
“Several times, we laid a cordon to nab or kill him but he escaped,” another police officer said. The team that went in to arrest him Monday from Srinagar’s Alochi Bagh area, following a tip-off, was in civilian clothes. Sheikh was killed along with his deputy, Saqib Manzoor.
Police sources said apart from Sheikh, even his family has had a long association with militancy and that close to a dozen members have joined militant ranks and have been killed in gunfights, including his brothers and a nephew. His sister Naseema is under detention for allegedly helping militants.
The three militants killed in Sopore in an operation that began Monday night were identified as Faisal Fayaz and Rameez Ahmad of south Kashmir’s Shopian and Ghulam Mustafa Sheikh of Kupwara.
Police said they had received a tip-off on the presence of the three at Peth Seer village in Sopore, and a joint team of its men, Army and paramilitary forces were part of the operation. They had zeroed in on the three when they opened fire, resulting in a gunfight that ended Tuesday morning, police said.