NATIONAL

Top Hizb commander killed

Shujaat Bukhari

MARHAMA (SOUTH KASHMIR): Hours before the Pakistan President, Parvez Musharraf, embarked on his two-day visit, security forces achieved a major success by eliminating the top commander of the pro-Pakistan Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and his bodyguard in this little village.

Officials said Shabir Ahmed Sheikh alias Badoori, the "divisional commander", was virtually the head of the organisation in Kashmir. Acting on information provided by the counter-intelligence wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, the Army launched a joint operation. It cordoned off the village which is near Bijbehara, home-town of the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Troops from 1 Rashtriya Rifles, 42 Rashtriya Rifles, 3 Rashtriya Rifles, 1 Special Force and 162 Territorial Army and the local police encircled the hideout of Badoori.

The militant and his bodyguard, Ghulam Mohiuddin, reportedly opened fire on the patrol party which returned it. An army spokesman said Badoori and his associate were killed in the exchange of fire. The Army blew up the house where Badoori was hiding by exploding a landmine. "He had made an underground hiding place in the house and was a regular visitor to the place," said an official. Badoori was wanted in a number of cases and he had been evading arrest over the past 14 years. "He was virtually commanding the Hizb operations in the Valley," the official said.

Brigadier A S Nandal, Commander of 1 Sector of Rashtriya Rifles, who led the operation, said, "This is an unprecedented success for the security forces." Badoori's killing is of significance as he was responsible for number of attacks on security forces, including burning a bus carrying BSF personnel and their families near Lower Munda on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

The General Officer Commanding of Victor Force, Major General V K Singh and other top officers were present at the time of the operation. Two AK-47 rifles, two wireless sets, one mobile set and ten grenades were recovered from the militants.

Local residents said they were taken aback when they saw the troops presence early morning. "We had no idea what had happened, but we were told not to move," said one resident. However, some of the residents alleged that the militant commander was not killed in the exchange of fire but while in custody.

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