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`Gazi Baba' killed in encounter: BSF

By Luv Puri

A television image of the body of Shahnawaz Khan alias `Gazi Baba'. — PTI

JAMMU AUG. 30. In what is being claimed as one of the biggest successes for the security agencies in Kashmir, Shah Nawaz Khan, also known as Gazi Baba, a Pakistani terrorist and the mastermind behind the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament, and the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and several other fidayeen (suicide) attacks in the State, was killed in an encounter today.

The Border Security Force said that the chief commander (operations) of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, Gazi Baba, was killed, along with his accomplices, in Noorbagh, a residential area in Srinagar. In the operation, a BSF jawan, Balbir Singh, was killed and eight others, including three officers, were injured.

The BSF's claim is based on a specific radio intercept caught on the frequency used by Gazi Baba and the identification of his body by a local resident. The Inspector-General of BSF (Kashmir range), Vijay Raman, said: "It is a big setback to the militant activities in Kashmir as many of our sources have confirmed his identification". The bodies of two of his accomplices had been recovered and the search was on to find the other bodies, he added.

Jaish denies claim

According to a UNI report, the Jaish has claimed that Gazi Baba was not among the militants killed today. A spokesman of the outfit said that the BSF claim was "totally false and baseless." He also contradicted the claim that there were only five militants in the truck. "There were seven militants inside the house when the BSF cordoned off the area. Four of them were able to break the cordon and reach their hideout," he said. He, however, did not say if Gazi was among those who escaped.

After the Parliament attack, Gazi Baba became a cult figure in the militant ranks. He was earlier in the Harkat-ul-Mujhaideen but later joined the Jaish. Known as the "chief strategist" of the Jaish in security circles, Gazi Baba was also allegedly involved in the massacre of 24 Kashmiri Pandits in Wandhama area on the outskirts of Srinagar city in 1998.

His involvement in the Parliament attack came to light during the interrogation of Mohammad Ashraf, a Kashmiri youth who had allegedly provided shelter and logistic support to the terrorists involved in the attack A hunt was launched in south Kashmir to track down Gazi Baba but all efforts failed. He also used names such as Jehadi, Shehbaz Khan, Abu Hijrat and the well known, "Doctor", which came to the fore during the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft to Kandahar in 1999. He was also reportedly involved in the kidnapping of six foreigners in Pahalgam in 1995.

Today's encounter was not an easy one for the security forces. After the hideout was traced in Srinagar, at 3.30 a.m., an operation was launched by the 60 and 193 Battalions of the BSF and the hideout was stormed. In the first assault, two BSF officers were injured and trapped in the first floor of the house. In order to rescue them and the residents of the house and those in the nearby areas, an operation was launched. The militants hiding in the upper floor of the house were engaged and the injured were rescued. After more reinforcements of the Rashtriya Rifles and the Special Operations Groups reached the area, massive firing started. After an 11-hour encounter, the security agencies killed the militants around noon. The house was shelled and brought down.

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