SRINAGAR: In a major breakthrough in the fight against terror, top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo, on the run for eight years, was killed on Wednesday by security forces in his village in Kashmir’s Pulwama district, police said.
Anticipating a law and order problem, authorities suspended mobile telephone services of private operators and mobile internet services across the Valley.
Security forces engaged with terrorists in two gunbattles in the south Kashmir district, one in Sharshalli village where two unidentified terrorists were killed and the other in Beighpora in Awantipora where they finally put down Naikoo who was holed up with another terrorist.
His accomplice attempted to escape by charging at security forces but was also killed.
The gunning down of the top terrorist commander comes three days after eight security personnel, including two Army officers Colonel Ashutosh Sharma and Major Anuj Sood, were killed in Handwara.
News of the killing of 32-year-old Naikoo, who carried a reward of Rs 12 lakh on his head and had escaped the police thrice, led to some incidents of people pelting stones at security forces. However, this was handled with care to ensure there was was no collateral damage, an official said.
Giving details of the operation, officials said security forces zeroed in on Naikoo’s hideout on Tuesday. But instead of initiating an immediate operation, the security forces fortified their cordon around the area and plugged all escape routes so he could not escape as he had done thrice earlier.
Army units were pushed along with the special operations group of Jammu and Kashmir Police at dawn, the officials said. A gunfight broke out after Naikoo and his accomplice fired at the security personnel.
CRPF and police forces laid an outer cordon to keep the public away from the encounter site.
Shortly after noon, one of the terrorists came out from the house firing indiscriminately at the security forces in his attempt to escape. However, he was shot dead in the retaliatory fire.
It was not immediately known whether that was Naikoo or his accomplice.
A police spokesperson said earlier in the morning that a top terrorist commander along with an accomplice was trapped in an encounter but did not reveal his identity. Later in the day, officials disclosed that the man in their sights was Naikoo, the man they had been looking for for eight years.
He became the de facto chief of the terror group after the death of Burhan Wani, the poster boy of militancy in the Valley, in July 2016.
In a separate encounter at Sharshali village, two terrorists, who are
yet to be identified, were gunned down in an encounter with security
Acting on a tip-off about the
presence of terrorists in the village, security forces launched a cordon
and search operation. It turned into an encounter after terrorists
opened fire towards security forces’ positions, officials said.
The forces retaliated, killing the two terrorists, they said.