India: Top Separatist Killed in Kashmir Firefight

Amin Masoodi and Adeel Shah
Srinagar, India
160708-IN-separatist-killed-620.jpg Hizbul Mujahideen supporters burn an Indian flag as they take protest in Kashmir, Jan. 26, 2015.

Indian security forces claim they dealt a major blow to armed separatism in the Kashmir valley with the killing of a top commander of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) on Friday.

Burhan Wani, 23, one of the most wanted separatist leaders in Indian-administered Kashmir, was killed in a “fierce but brief exchange of fire” in the Kokernag area, about 80 km (50 miles) from Srinagar, a top police official confirmed.

“Hizbul’s poster boy was killed today along with two of his accomplices. It is a massive breakthrough for Indian security forces,” Syed Javid Mujtaba Gilani, Jammu and Kashmir state’s Inspector General of Police, told BenarNews.

“We had been tracking his movements for a long time and today he was trapped and subsequently eliminated in an operation. Wani was instrumental in luring and recruiting local youths into his group mostly through releasing videos on social networking sites,” he said.

As of press time, authorities said they had been able to identify the second slain separatist as Sartaj Ahmad, a south Kashmir resident, while the identity of the third suspect had not been determined.

Wani, whose faction claimed responsibility for killing three policemen in Srinagar in May and warned of more such attacks, had a bounty of rupees 1 million ($14,887) on his head.

At 15, he picked up gun

Angry at the torture that he and his brother, Khalid Muzaffar, bore at the hands of the Indian Army, Wani joined the HM, considered the largest indigenous militant wing in India-controlled Kashmir, in 2010, according to his relatives.

Muzaffar was killed in April 2015 in a gunfight with security forces.

Wani, who hailed from south Kashmir’s Tral town, about 40 km (25 miles) from Srinagar, had been a top student until he joined the separatist outfit.

Over the years, he emerged as a prominent face of the HM, with several videos on social networking sites showing him, clad in combat uniform and surrounded by armed guards, urging Kashmiri Muslims to join the fight against Indian armed forces.

In his last-known video released in June, just hours after his group claimed responsibility for killing three policemen in Srinagar, Wani warned of intensifying actions against Indian security forces.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir, claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan, has been in the midst of a separatist insurgency since the late 1980s. According to official figures, more than 70,000 people, a majority of them Kashmiri civilians, have been killed since then.

As news of Wani’s killing spread, hundreds of Kashmiris took to the streets to protest the action in Tral, prompting security forces to fire tear gas shells.

The protesters clashed with security forces and raised anti-India and pro-freedom slogans.

“His martyrdom will give rise to many more commanders like him. We are proud of him, he fought against forcible Indian occupation with courage all these years,” Feroz Ahmad told Benar News in a phone interview.

“Indian security forces should not celebrate his martyrdom as they will have to fight every Kashmiri to muzzle the ongoing freedom movement aimed at liberating Kashmir from India. His martyrdom will not dampen the spirits of separatists fighting against Indian rule,” he added.

Amir Mehraj, a student from the nearby Anantnag district, told BenarNews, “It is not the end. If they have killed Wani today, there will be scores of other Wanis to fight Indian occupation.”

Shut down against killing

Meanwhile, separatists called for a shutdown in Kashmir.

“India cannot suppress the ongoing freedom movement by killing Burhan Wani,” Ayaz Akbar, spokesman for the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of 26 political, social and religious organizations that has been fighting for Kashmir’s independence since 1993, told BenarNews.

“[India] has to realize every Kashmiri is as powerful as Wani and will fight Indian occupation irrespective of brute force Indian forces’ have been using in Kashmir to crush the movement. There will be a complete shutdown in Kashmir tomorrow as a tribute to Wani and his men,” he added.

Authorities said they were prepared for the proposed shutdown and foil protests.

“Restrictions will be enforced to maintain law and order in wake of the killings,” Srinagar’s deputy commissioner Farooq Ahmad told BenarNews, adding that many separatist leaders had been placed under house arrest to prevent them from leading protests.


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