A year after he established al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, the chief of the militant outfit Zakir Musa suffered a major setback Saturday when he lost six out of his total nine comrades—including the deputy chief—in a gunfight in southern Tral area.
In a major anti-militancy operation, the forces killed all the six militants in Arampora hamlet in Tral area of police district Awantipora in the morning, the police said.
Musa lost his deputy Sauliha Muhammad alias Rehan and five other militants of the outfit in the gunfight that lasted for barely 20 minutes, a police official said.
"The militants left in the outfit are now four including Musa himself," said superintendent of police Awantipora, Muhammad Zahid Malik.
Since its formation in May 2017, the Arampora gunfight was fourth where militants associated with AGH were killed.
In May 2017, three militants Zahid Ahmad Bhat from NawdalTral, Ishaq Ahmed from BatagundTral and Muhammad Ashraf Dar from TrichPulwama were killed in GulabBagh area in Tral during a gunfight with forces.
In March this year, two militants of the outfit were killed in Balhama area of Srinagar and identified as OwaisNabi of NowdalTral and Shabir Ahmad of Aghanzipora, Awantipora.
On November 27 this year, Musa lost his close associate Shakir Hassan Dar who was killed in a gunfight with forces in Reshipora, Tral.
"Both Shakir and Sauliha were architects of AGH. Zakir, whose outfit has mostly remained active in police district Awantipora, is now left with a few new faces", said a senior police official, who wished not to be named.
On Saturday morning, the dead grass was carpeted with frost in Arampora. The branches of trees were scattered on a hideout where the militants were hiding. "Within 20 minutes we managed to kill them one by one. There was no major retaliation from the rebels," said an army soldier, who was involved in the operation.
A police official said that based on 'specific inputs', a joint team of army's 42 Rashtriya Rifles, Jammu and Kashmir police and Central Reserve Police Force launched a cordon-and-search operation in Arampora following "credible inputs" about presence of militants there.
The hideout where the militants were trapped was located barely few meters away from the residence of Sauliha Muhammad (26). Blood was scattered outside the hideout, which, however, was later cleaned by the people.
Abdur Rashid, a local resident, said, "We heard heavy firing but could not confirm anything. We later heard that a gunfight has erupted."
Earlier, additional director general of police (law and order/security), Munir Khan confirmed that six militants of AGH were killed in the Arampora gunfight.
The police identified them as Sauliha Muhammad Akhoon alias Rehan of Arampora (deputy chief of AGH); Rasik Ahmed Mir son of GhulamQadir, Rouf Ahmad Mir son of GhulamNabi, UmerRamzan Mir son of Muhammad Ramzan (all residents of Dadsara, Tral), NadeemMuzaffar son of Muhammad Muzaffar of BatgundTral and Faisal JavidKhanday son of JavidKhanday of Amlar, Awantipora.
Three of the slain militants had recently joined the outfit, according to the police.
Both Shakir and Sauliha were initially close associates of popular HizbulMujahideen commander BurhanWani. Both had joined militancy in 2015.
In May 2017, however, when Zakir parted his ways from the Hizb, both Shakir and Sauliha joined him.
Kashmir range inspector general of police Swayam Prakash Pani told Greater Kashmir that the gunfight was "brief and clean" which took place in an open field. "We managed to kill all six militants without facing any law and order problems. No collateral damage took place. Arms and ammunition were recovered from the spot," said Pani. Urging the people to stay away from the gunfight site, the IGP said "such an area can prove dangerous due to stray explosive materials".
THOUSANDS JOIN FUNERALS
As soon as the gunfight was over, tens of thousands of people turned up at the funerals of the slain militants in their native villages. Late in the afternoon, all the six were laid to rest, with all eyes around moist.
During the funerals, the protesters shouted pro-freedom and pro-Islam slogans.
Protests, followed by stone-pelting clashes, also erupted in various areas of Tral. The protesters pelted forces with stones and the forces in turn lobbed tear smoke shells to disperse them.
During clashes, a few people suffered injuries and one of them was evacuated to sub-district hospital Tral where from he was referred to a Srinagar hospital for specialised treatment.
Meanwhile, all shops, business establishments remained closed while both public and private transport remained off the roads in Tral. As a matter of routine, authorities suspended the mobile internet services in the area soon after the gunfight broke out.