Burhan's successor Ghaznavi among three Hizbul militants killed in Shopian
Two soldiers also slain in 18-hour long encounter
Army soldiers take positions outside a house where militants were hiding during an encounter in which top three Hizbul Mujahideen Commanders and two Army soldiers were killed, at Awneera in Shopian district of south Kashmir on Sunday. PTI Photo
Three Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants, including its self-styled operational Chief Yasin Yatoo alias Mehmood Ghaznavi, and two army men were killed in an overnight encounter in south Kashmir's Shopian district on Sunday.
Three soldiers, including a captain, were also injured in the 18-hour-long fierce gun battle. Police said three militants were killed in a fierce gunfight at Awneera village, 70 km from here. The encounter started after Army’s 3 Rashtriya Rifle and special operations group (SOG) of police launched a joint operation at around 6 pm Saturday following a tip off about the presence of five militants.
"As the security forces were engaged in house-to-house searches, the hiding militants in a bid to break the cordon fired upon them, triggering off a fierce encounter. In the initial firing five army men, including a Captain, sustained injuries," they said and added the injured were shifted to 92-Base Hospital in Srinagar, where two of them succumbed.
The slain army men were identified as sepoys Ilayaraja P and Gowai SumedhWaman. Reports said as the encounter was going on, locals rushed out of their homes to pelt stones on the forces to help the holed up militants to escape. The police responded by firing tear gas shells and pellets, in which several protesters were injured.
Sources said the operation was halted for the night but the forces maintained a cordon of the area to stop the militants from fleeing. "Intermittent firing continued throughout the night and the operation began in full swing in the morning in which three militants were killed after forces blasted off four houses where they were hiding. Two militants managed to escape from the encounter spot," they revealed and said the operation was called off at around 12 in the afternoon.
The slain militants were identified as Umar Majid Sheikh, Irfan ul Sheikh and Ghaznavi. Earlier, there was some confusion about his identity and it was presumed that another militant Adil Malik was killed in the gun-battle. However, later the third slain militant was identified as Ghaznavi. One Kevyt Konekivaan (KK) series rifle used by Ghaznavi and two AK-47 rifles were recovered from the encounter site, police said.
Ghaznavi, 41, was the operational chief of the outfit in Kashmir and was one of the longest surviving militants in the Valley and had successfully mobilized the Hizbul cadres after the killing of Burhan Wani in July last year.
A resident of Budgam in central Kashmir, Ghaznavi first joined militancy in 1996 and was arrested several times. After his release in 2015, he went missing and a Hizbul statement declared him dead. However, after the killing of Burhan on July 8 Ghaznavi appeared in south Kashmir and addressed massive public rallies in different parts of the region. It was then that he again came on police radar.
In a separate incident, militants opened fireafterpolice and army started a cordon and search operation at Wahab Parray Mohalla in Hajin area of north Kashmir's Bandipora district. Police said that the firing wounded two cops who were referred to hospital. Militants managed to escape taking advantage of heavy stone-pelting, police said and added the CASO has been called off.
135 militants, including top commanders like Ghaznavi, Abu Dujana, Sabzar Bhat, Bashir Lashkari and Junaid Mattoo, have been killed so far this year in the Valley, which is highest in the last eight years. The security forces are going after militants as part of operation "hunt down" and on the basis of a “hit list” of militants.
Meanwhile, a civilian injured in an explosion in Dalgate area of Srinagar on Saturday night succumbed on Sunday at SK Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) hospital.