The longest surviving and wanted Hizbul Mujahideen “operational commander” Riyaz Naikoo was among three militants killed in the intensified operations of the security forces in south Kashmir in the past 12 hours.
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“In an operation in Pulwama’s Beigpora village, Naikoo and his associate were trapped. The operation was launched on Tuesday evening and a contact was established with the hiding terrorists on Wednesday morning. Naikoo was the chief operational commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen,” said a Srinagar-based police spokesman.
The security forces pressed into service helicopters and drones and used heavy machinery to cut off roads to seal the area. A house, where the militants were hiding, was also damaged when the security forces used explosives to flush out the militants.
The police said Naikoo joined the militant ranks in May 2012 and was a close associate of another commander Burhan Wani, killed in 2016. After Zakir Musa’s defection from the Hizb to form his own outfit Ansar Gazwat ul Hind, Naikoo took the command of the Hizb outfit, the police said.
“Naikoo had been continuously making audio and video clips and putting up on the social media to motivate youth to join militancy and went on recruiting new boys, the police said. He was a mastermind behind the revival of the Hizb outfit in J&K. His videos and audio carried pro-Pakistan and separatist propaganda,” the police said.
Naikoo’s killing sparked massive violent protests between locals and security forces in Pulwama and parts of Srinagar, forcing the authorities to snap Internet and calling facility in the Valley as “a precautionary measure”. Several checkpoints of the security forces were attacked with stones in parts of the Valley. However, the police did not confirm any injuries in these protests.
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Earlier, the security forces killed two unidentified militants in a pre-dawn operation in Pulwama’s Sharshali. “The identification of the killed terrorists is being ascertained. Incriminating material including arms and ammunition was recovered from the site of encounter,” the police said
Besides, a Jaish-e-Muhammad militant was also arrested in Pulwama’s Tral. The police said arms and ammunition were recovered from his possession.
A master recruiter, propagandist
Naikoo, who was born in Pulwama’s Beighpora village in April 1985, belonged to a family of farmers. His killing has struck a major dent in the striking capability of the Hizbul Mujahideen and its recruitment drive. Over a dozen local youth joined Naikoo’s Hizb this year, a police official said.
He carried a reward of ₹12 lakh on his head, as the security agencies categorised him as “A plus plus” militant and remained “the most wanted since 2018”.
A graduate in mathematics, Naikoo was a teacher and conducted coaching classes in 2010-11 before joining militancy in 2012. He took over as an “operational commander” of the Hizbul Mujahideen after Zakir Musa rebelled over the methods and Islamic narrative used to pursue the “armed struggle” in Kashmir.
Since then, Naikoo used several social media platforms and released scores of audio speeches, warning against joining the Islamic State (IS) and called for an indigenous armed struggle in J&K.
Brain behind several attacks on the security forces and alleged informers, Naikoo surprised the security apparatus when his men kidnapped policemen and their family members in August in 2018, in response to the arrest of the family members of the militants. In his latest audio released earlier this year, he could be heard calling for social distancing to survive the COVID-19 outbreak .