Four militants linked to al-Qaeda affiliate killed in J&K gunfight

Adil Akhzer
Security personnel near the encounter site in Shopian, J&K, Sunday. (Express photo)

Four militants affiliated to the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH) were killed Sunday in a gunfight with security forces in South Kashmir s Shopian district. The AGH claims to be an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

According to the Jammu and Kashmir Police, the encounter broke out at the Panzar area of Shopian in the morning after security forces launched a cordon and search operation following reports that militants were present in the area.

During searches, terrorists fired upon the search party. The fire was retaliated leading to an encounter, said police. In a statement, Colonel Rajesh Kalia, Srinagar-based defence spokesperson, said: Total four terrorists eliminated… weapons recovered.

The militants killed in the encounter were identified as Rafi Hassan Mir of Kralchak, Shopian; Suhail Ahmad Bhat of Batmuran, Shopian; Showkat Ahmad Mir of Rajpora in Pulwama; and, Azad Ahmad Khanday of Bamnoo, Pulwama.

Police sources said that the operation took place in an orchard and the gunfight began at around 6 am. …no collateral damage happened during the encounter, said police.

In a statement, police said that among the four killed militants, Showkat had a long history of terror crime records since 2015 . He was initially part of the proscribed terror outfit HM (Hizbul Mujahideen), police said, adding that several cases were registered against him.

According to police, Showkat Mir was also instrumental in recruiting Azad Ahmad, Rafi Hassan and Suhail Ahmad who had recently joined the terrorist fold . Recently, pictures of Suhail and Rafi holding weapons surfaced on social media in the Valley, which also mentioned that the duo had joined the AGH outfit.

A senior police officer in South Kashmir told The Indian Express that they believe Showkat had shifted to the AGH recently. Last month, Zakir Rashid Bhat, alias Zakir Musa, considered the head of the AGH, was killed in a gunbattle in Pulwama district.

Though AGH s presence has diminished after Musa s death, the outfit is trying to attract more young men, said police. There is a very minimal presence of AGH on the ground. Recently, we saw Suhail and Rafi announcing that they joined Ansar, which is an indication that AGH is trying to recruit more men, said a police officer.

There has been an increase in anti-militancy operations in the Valley. While one militant was killed Saturday in an encounter in Baramulla district, earlier this week, a Jaish-e-Mohammad militant, who owned the car that was used in February 14 suicide bombing attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, was among two militants killed in a gunbattle in Anantnag district.