By Shah Abbas
Srinagar, India, Apr 9 (efe-epa).- The top commander of an al Qaeda affiliate group was among seven militants killed in separate gun battles in the disputed India-administered Kashmir Friday, police said.
Kashmir police chief Vijay Kumar told reporters that Imtiyaz Ahmed Shah, who headed the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, was gunned down with one of his associates near the south Kashmir Tral town, some 50 km from the main city of Srinagar.
Kumar described Shah’s killing as a breakthrough against the franchisee of the global Islamist militant network that already had a few cadres fighting against Indian security forces in the region.
The police chief complimented his force for “the successful operation.”
The Kashmir al-Qaeda affiliate came into existence in 2017 when popular militant leader Zakir Musa split from the largest militant group Hizbul Mujahideen over ideological differences.
Musa founded the Ansar Gazwat-ul-Hind in July 2017. Security forces gunned him down in May 2019. His successor Hameed Lelhari was killed in October that year when Shah took over.
Separately, police said five militants were killed in south Kashmir’s Shopian.
The Shopian shootout lasted for more than 15 hours, the Kashmir police chief said.
He said the militants were holed up in a mosque.
“The militants were offered to surrender, but they declined and fired upon forces,” Kumar said.
The killing of militants sparked violent protests as hundreds of their supporters threw stones at security forces to disrupt the operation.
The locals alleged that the mosque was damaged during the gunfight.
The anti-India protests took place two days after police barred media persons from live coverage of gunfights or law and order situations in the troubled Muslim-majority region.
“It appears a tactic to coerce journalists into not reporting facts on the ground,” a group of journalists said in a joint statement.
The Himalayan Kashmir region has been caught in an unending territorial dispute between nuclear powers India and Pakistan.
The region is battling an armed rebellion since the late 1980s. India blames Pakistan for sponsoring a proxy war in Kashmir.
The anti-Indian rebellion has consumed thousands of lives, mostly civilians, in the region that was stripped of its semi-autonomy in August 2019. EFE-EPA