Zeenat-ul-Islam, one of the most wanted militants in Kashmir who carries Rs 12.5 lakh bounty on his head, has left Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and joined Al Badr outfit.
Islam, 30, alias Usman, who hails from Sugan village of restive Zainapora in Shopian district, is listed in police records as the category A++ militant. He is known for giving a slip to government forces during cordon-and-search operations. He even escaped during one of major gunfights in recent times in Dragad-Sugan on April 1, in which seven of his associates were killed.
Islam, according to the police, has been an active militant since 2015 and is regarded as an IED expert too. He first joined Lashkar-I-Toiba (LeT) but soon switched over to Hizb and rose in its ranks to become district commander of Shopian.
The tall, long-haired Islam worked with slain top commanders like WaseemMalla and SadamPaddar in Shopian and has been a regular during funerals of his associates.
Recently, Islam led a group of six militants to the funeral of scholar-turned-militant SabzarSofi at Sangam, Bijbehara, and offered a gun salute to him.
The funeral of Sofi was held in an open paddy field barely a few meters away from the Srinagar-Jammu highway which was heavily guarded by security forces with some top police officials also present.
However, Islam has now announced that he has joined Al Badr.
"As you are well aware, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen with the grace of God is doing well and is standing firm before the enemy in the battlefield. So I have now decided to join my parent organisation Al-Badr with the sole motive of popularising and strengthening it and help my oppressed nation in realising the dream of Azadi," Islam is heard as saying in a purported video message that has gone viral on social media.
Islam says that the decision was taken only after a consensus was reached between the leadership of the two outfits "Further, all armed militant outfits, whether Al Badr or Hizb, LeT, Jaish-i-Muhammad, HarkatulMujahideen, TehreekulMujahideen or AnsarGhazwatul Hind have common constitution and goal of standing for Islam," he says.
Islam, however, describes Hizb operational commander Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo as his leader and inspiration.
"RiyazNaikoo alias Zubair sahib has been my commander and would remain so. I have deep respect and regard for him and it will remain forever. He is my inspiration. I will always try my level best to walk in his footsteps," Islam concludes the message with that.
A Bachelor of Science, Islam, according to the police, was affiliated with Al Badr when he was arrested for the first time in 2008 and booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA).
With his arrest, the outfit too went into oblivion for a decade and only came on the militancy map again early this year with many youths from southern Kashmir joining it.
"We are verifying about his switching over sides. However, for us, it does not matter at all which organisation he is affiliated with. What we know he is only a militant involved in several attacks on security forces and killings of unarmed civilians," a police official said.
"Hizb and Al Badr at times have been operating together," he said, while speculating that by strengthening Al Badr, Zeenat might be countering the influence of Alqaeda affiliate AnsarGhazwatul Hind as well as JKIS, which have been critical of Pakistan's policies.
Al Badr made its entry into Kashmir in 1998, and prior to it, they had fought alongside anti-Soviet Mujahideen forces in Afghanistan as part of GulbuddinHekmatyar'sHizb-I-Islami.
Hizb and Al Badr are ideologically identical, as both draw inspiration from the Jamaat-e-Islami.
The outfit merged into Hizb when it was established but later its relations soured. Al Badr began to operate independently to "liberate Kashmir" in 1998.
Its chief, said to be the over 60-year-old BakhtZaman, is a guerrilla leader who fought in the Afghan war. A year after coming into being, the outfit sent its cadre to participate in the Kargil war. The ideological pact with the Hizb gives it the benefit of utilisingHizb's logistics in the Valley.
The relatively peaceful years after the 2003 ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan, left Al Badr fighting an onslaught in which it lost its human resource as well as striking capability.
It had to fall back on an ousted Lashkar-e-Toiba commander, Muzaffar Iqbal Naikoo alias MuzaMolvi, to ensure it was relevant.
The once most-wanted militant Muzaffar, killed in 2017 on Srinagar outskirts, however, couldn't revive Al Badr.