The Kashmir chief of militant outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba Abu Ismail and his associate Abu Qasim were on Thursday killed in what police called a "brief and clean operation" at Aribagh area of Nowgam on Srinagar outskirts.
Top security officials said that at least 15 FIRs were registered against Abu Ismail, including the one related to the attack on an Amarnath pilgrim bus at Botengo Anantnag on July 10 this year that left seven pilgrims dead and over 20 seriously injured. Since then, the security agencies—police, army and the CRPF—had constituted special teams to track down Ismail whom they called the "mastermind" of the attack on the Amarnth pilgrims.
With Ismail's killing, government forces said that they have managed to kill nine top commanders of Lashkar and Hizbul Mujahideen over the past five months under "operation all-out" conceived in May this year.
Addressing a joint press conference at police control room here, Kashmir range inspector general of police Muneer Khan, general officer commanding Victor Force, BS Raju, and inspector general of CRPF Ravideep Singh Sahi claimed that the Aribagh operation was "clean and no collateral damage took place." However, they refused to reveal how Ismail had reached Aribagh.
"The encounter was carried out in a very clean and smooth manner. Two foreign militants were killed. They were identified as Abu Ismail, the Kashmir chief of Lashkar-e-Toiba and his associate Abu Qasim also known as Chotta Qasim, both from Pakistan," the IGP Khan said. He said after the killing of Abu Dujana, Ismail had taken over.
Ismail was wanted in 15 FIRs including the one registered in the case of attack on pilgrim bus in Anantnag. Khan said that Ismail was A++ category militant while Qasim was also A+ militant and both of them were "involved in murders, dacoity and militancy related incidents."
"The attack on pilgrim bus had evoked widespread condemnation from all sections of the society, including civil society and people, who were keen to see people behind the attack punished. I believe it is because of the prayers of people of Kashmir that today we succeeded in killing those who were behind killing of innocent pilgrims," Khan said.
"Soon after the killing of innocent pilgrims, we started a massive hunt for the militants behind the attack," he said.
He said the bodies of both the militants have been recovered and kept "at an appropriate place."
Asked when Ismail and Qasim reached Aribagh, the IGP said: "It's not feasible to go into where from they (militants) come and go. These are operational details and don't need to be disclosed."
Locals of Aribagh said they heard a few gunshots after hearing that lane No 7 has been completely sealed and a house was being zeroed in.
"We heard gunshots for not more than 15 minutes and later came to know that there was an encounter and two Lashkar militants were killed," he said.
He said with the killing of Abu Ismail, the chapter of "militants involved in killing of pilgrims has been closed."
"But it is not that militancy is over. Tomorrow, we will start our mission afresh," he said.
Asked who is the next militant commander in target, he said: "We are killing militant leadership as they lure youth to militancy. You will come to know who is next target."
Speaking on the occasion, GoC of South Kashmir-based Victor Force, major general B S Raju said that Ismail was directly responsible for killing of 14 forces personnel, eight civilians and many others. He said that a very specific input was shared with them by the police about the presence two top militants at Aribagh area.
"After the killing of Abu Qasim, Abu Dujana took over and after his killing, Abu Ismail took the charge. Now we expect a vacuum in Lashkar outfit and deficiency in its leadership which should give us more opportunity to neutralise the remaining militants so that some peace and calm is brought to the Valley," Raju said.
He said that the forces are maintaining close synergy and all operations are conducted in a smooth manner.
In his address, inspector general of CRPF Ravideep Singh Sahi said that Ismail was involved in carrying out attacks on forces at various points on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. "We were after him. Today's operation was a well-coordinated one and will continue such operations in future," he said.
A police source told Greater Kashmir that the input about Ismail's presence in a house at Aribagh, Nowgam, was shared by the police team from South Kashmir after they tracked the Lashkar commander's movement for the past few days.
In a statement, a police spokesman said: "15 FIRs were lodged against Abu Ismail and he was involved in number of militant attacks in South Kashmir, including several on police and other security forces. He was involved in several attacks on security forces convoys at Sempora (in which one CRPF personnel was killed), Zewan Crossing (in which one police personnel was killed), Nowgam (in which one CRPF personnel was injured), Pampore (in which three soldiers were killed) and KP road (in which two police personnel were killed)."
The police statement read: "Moreover, he (Abu Ismail) was involved in grenade attacks on army camp at Kakapora and polie post Kakapora. He was also involved in recent grenade attack at Lal Chowk in which one civilian lost his life and 25 civilians got injured."
"Furthermore, he was involved in bank robberies at J&K Bank branches of Malpora Charar-i-Sharief, Arihal Pulwama and Ratnipora Pulwama. Besides, he was also involved in killing of Sarpanchs of Kandizal and Kakapora."
LeT PAYS TRIBUTES
Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) chief Mahmood Shah has paid tributes to the two slain militants killed in a brief encounter in Nowgam on Srinagar outskirts.
In an emailed statement to KNS, LeT spokesman while quoting Shah paid tributes to the slain militants.
"We warn the informers who in lieu of money are damaging the freedom movement," he said.