Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Naveed Jatt alias Abu Hanzulla, a prime suspect in the murder of journalist Shujaat Bukhari, was killed in a gunfight in Chattergam village, on the outskirts of Srinagar, on Wednesday morning. Jatt, who hailed from Multan in Pakistan, had escaped from police custody in February this year.
Announcing his death, J&K Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbagh Singh said they would ask Pakistan to take back his body. “In this case (Bukhari’s killing), he was a prime suspect… We will write to the Government of India to offer his body to Pakistan, through its competent authority,” he said.
According to J&K Police sources, Jatt, who was arrested in June 2014, had told his interrogators that he had “seen Ajmal Kasab in a madrasa run by the LeT sometime in 2006-2007”. A senior police officer said this was the first time that a Pakistani militant had admitted to knowing Kasab, the lone terrorist captured alive during the 26/11 Mumbai attack.
Big blow to Valley’s Lashkar leadership
The killing of Naveed Jatt has wiped out the Lashkar’s leadership in the Valley, especially in South Kashmir. Jatt was the fifth top Lashkar commander to have been killed in the last 45 days. The killings, police officers say, have drastically reduced the militant outfit’s strike capability in the Valley. Before Jatt, Lashkar’s Srinagar chief Mehraj-ud-din Bangroo, its top commander in North Kashmir, Abu Muaz, and its top South Kashmir commanders Azad Ahmad Malik and Mushtaq Ahmad Mir, were killed.
Giving details of the operation on Wednesday, police said a joint team of J&K Police, army and paramilitary forces cordoned off Chattergam village early in the morning, following a tip-off on the presence of militants there. Three security personnel were injured as the militants, who were hiding inside a house, opened fire.
Two militants, including Jatt, were killed in the gunfight which lasted for several hours. A third militant is reported to have escaped.
Police had named Jatt and two local militants, Azad Ahmad Malik and Muzaffar Ahmad, as the prime suspects behind Bukhari murder’s on June 14 this year. Malik was killed in a gunfight at Bijbehara on Friday.
Trained at the LeT’s Muridke headquarters in Pakistan, Jatt is reported to have entered Kashmir in 2012, through Kupwara sector. After spending some months in North Kashmir, he shifted to South Kashmir, where he was said to be involved in a string of militant attacks on security forces.
On June 14, 2014, Jatt was arrested from a hideout in Sharmpora village of Kulgam district. At the time of his arrest, police had said he was the Lashkar’s district commander and a close associate of Abu Qasim and Abu Dujana — two of the Lashkar’s chiefs in the Valley who were later killed.
On February 6 this year, Jatt escaped from police custody during a militant attack at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital, where he had been taken for a check-up. Two policemen were killed in the attack.
While Jatt was a Lashkar operative, his escape was reported to have been planned and executed by the Hizbul Mujahideen, on the instructions of its chief Riyaz Naikoo. After his escape, Jatt is reported to have made his way to South Kashmir, where he took charge of the militant outfit. He worked in close coordination with Hizbul Mujahideen militants, and would often be seen in videos released by them.
He would also often appear at funerals of militants. Since February, he is reported to have escaped from the sites of gunfights at least six times.
A police statement on Tuesday said Jatt was also “involved in the killing of an ASI in Pulwama in May 2013, a series of grenade attacks on security forces, and in killing of CRPF personnel at Awneera, Shopian in 2013”.
“He was also involved in conspiring and executing several bank robberies and terror attacks in South Kashmir, including the attack in the court complex in Pulwama in which two policemen were killed, the attack on a polling party in Shopian in which a presiding officer was killed, the attack on police party at Bongam, Shopian,” said the statement.
According to police, 13 FIRs had been filed against Jatt in Srinagar and South Kashmir this year alone.