Two weeks after the killing of Zakir Musa, al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH) has named Hameed Lelhari as his successor and new chief in Jammu and Kashmir.
In a video released on Eid by al-Hurr (official media wing of AGH), the al-Qaeda said Lelhari has replaced Musa as its local commander and Ghazi Ibrahim Khalid appointed as his deputy. Musa was killed in an encounter with security forces on May 23 in the Tral area of volatile Pulwama district in south Kashmir.
30-year-old Lelhari is a resident of Lelhar in Pulwama and is believed to have served Musa as his deputy after he along with a group of around a dozen of militants split from Hizbul Mujahideen and swore allegiance to al-Qaeda in July 2017.
A school dropout, Lelhari, police sources said, was working as a labourer and later as a mason before joining the militant ranks. “He didn’t figure in the recently prepared list of top 10 militant commanders by security agencies in Kashmir. Even he is not listed as A++ category on the hit list of security forces,” they said and added police in Kashmir was clueless about his identity and background.
Musa, who joined militancy after leaving his B. Tech course in Chandigarh in 2013, professed an ideology similar to that of the Islamic State (ISIS)—to establish the Shariat or the Islamic law in the state. He was the close associate of 21-year-old Burhan Wani, the new face of Kashmir militancy, who was killed in an encounter with security forces on 8 July 2016.
Musa, who was said to be operating in upper reaches of the Tral area, quit Hizbul in May 2017 after he called separatist leaders “hypocrites, infidels and followers of evil".