Shabir Ahmad Malik became the first youth to join Lashkar-e-Toiba outfit from Tral area, which has been Hizbul Mujahideen stronghold for the past three decades.
Son of Abdul Ahmad Malik of Nagbal village, Shabir had been missing August 28.
On Wednesday night, a picture of his in army fatigues and holding a rifle surfaced on social media, the signature manner in which youths announce their entry into a militant outfit.
Until yesterday, his family had been searching for him and even fretted that he might have been killed.
A baker by profession, Shabir, 25, had lost his father some years ago. He was living with his mother and was the lone bread earner for his family.
Awantipora superintendent of police Muhammad Zahid Malik said Shabir might have developed links with LeT outside Tral where the outfit has no base.
Shabir was jailed for six months in 2015 for his involvement in militant activities, a police officer said.
Tral, hometown of Burhan Wani, current resurgent militancy's builder, has been Hizb stronghold.
In 2015, Jaish-e-Mohammad had tried recruiting in the area. After Burhan's death, his successor Zakir Musa parted ways with Hizb and formed Alqaeda affiliate Ansar Gazwatul Hind.
Two years ago, a telephonic conversation between Burhan and LeT chief Hafiz Saeed centred around the challenges Lashkar had been facing in Kashmir. Burhan had purportedly offered help. However, during Burhan's role as commander from 2010-2016, no Tral youth joined LeT in the area.
A police official said militant commanders from Tral have the propensity to "build or rebuild" militant outfits—Burhan revived Hizb in a big way, Zakir (who is from Noorpora area of Tral) formed Ansar Gazwatul Hind and three-feet-tall, 47-year-old Noor Mohammad Tantray from Darganie Gund area of Tral revived Jaish in the Valley.
Tantray was killed in December 2017 in a gunfight at Samboora, Pampore.
Lashkar, since its emergence in 1993, has not made any ground in Tral. All top LeT commanders such as Abu Qasim, Abu Dujana, Bashir Lashkari, Abu Ismail and Muzamil Amin Dar were either from Pakistan or other parts of the Valley.
According to official data, in the Awantipora police district—Tral is under its jurisdiction—14 militants are associated with Hizb, five each with Ansar Gazwatul Hind and Jaish and six with LeT.
A police officer said Jaish, Ansar Gazwatul Hind and LeT find it hard to maintain over ground workers in Tral. Hizb alone has a strong network of OGWs.