Hizb loses 3rd 'Distt Commdr' in a month
10 July 2006
The Daily Excelsior
Excelsior Special Correspondent
Srinagar: A day after claiming to have identified the masterminds of the grenade blast that killed 5 persons and left 42 others injured in Kulgam, Jammu and Kashmir Police has claimed to have eliminated one of Hizbul Mujahideen's seniormost commanders in south Kashmir. Riyaz Ahmed Bhat alias Aftab of Laroo, Kulgam, was functioning as his organisation's 'District Commander' and was, according to Police, responsible for over a dozen identified killings. Meanwhile, security forces averted a possible tragedy, apparently aimed on the cavalcade of Holy Mace, when they detected and neutralised a powerful IED at Letapora on Srinagar-Jammu national highway a little before midnight. Chhari Mubarak caravan is passing through the same spot on Tuesday. Authoritative sources told the EXCELSIOR that Kulgam Police, with the back-up support of CRPF 162 Bn and 154 Bn, killed Riyaz Ahmed Bhat alias Aftab S-o Ghulam Mohammad Bhat of Laroo in a nightlong gunbattle at Kachhipora in Qazigund area last night. One AK-56 rifle and a quantity of ammunition and grenades was claimed recovered from his possession. Sources said that Police conducted the operation on a specific information from its informers. According to these sources, Aftab had been elevated to the position of 'District Commander' after working as 'Battalion Commander' for several years when Hizbul Mujahideen's 'District Commander' Farooq Ahmed Bhat alias Junaid alias Aaquib R-o Fatehpora had been killed by Police and security forces in an operation on June 20 last. Junaid's predecessor and Hizb's dreaded 'District Commander' Mushtaq Ahmed Wani alias Khalid of Redwani had been eliminated by Kulgam Police and armed forces in another operation on June 6th. With Aftab's death today, Hizbul Mujahideen has suffered a severe jolt as a number of its cadres, including three of the 'District Commanders' have been killed by Police and security forces in Kulgam area in the last one month. Reports from south Kashmir said that people went for a shutdown but there were no demonstrations. Residents, however, insisted that Aftab had been arrested with the help of Police informers on Sunday and had been later killed in a fake encounter. SP Kulgam maintained that Aftab was very much killed in an encounter. He claimed that the senior Hizb militant had been named as an accused in over a dozen civilian killings in Kulgam area alone. He said that his possible involvement in scores of subversive incidents and killings was being ascertained as Aftab had been continuously functioning as a commander with his organisation since 1994. He claimed that Aftab was the main mastermind of the grenade blast that had left five persons dead and 42 others-including former Minister Sakeena Itoo-injured at Kulgam on Saturday. Former NC MLA Ghulam Nabi Dar had died in the same blast. Police had on Sunday identified three persons as the militants who had planned and executed the attack on the NC leaders. It had revealed their names as Reyaz Ahmed Bhat alias Aftab of Laroo and two of his close associates, Fayaz Ahmad Naikoo alias Hamza and Makeen Ahmad Rather alias Sameeullah of Ashmuji, Kulgam. Hizbul Mujahideen had not only denied its hand in the attack but had also condemned it, saying that the militants did not believe in targetting innocent civilians. Once again today, Hizb spokesman claimed in another statement that his organisation had never planned or executed the grenade attack on Sakeena Itoo and her associates. He referred to the NC President Omar Abdullah's statement, suggesting that the blast was the handiwork of rival political parties. Hizb spokesman confirmed that Riyaz Ahmed Bhat alias Aftab had been working as a militant and commander with his organisation for the last 17 years. He said that he had been arrested and subsequently released twice since 1989. He, however, disputed the official version and claimed that Aftab had been arrested from Sharatpora, Anantnag, when he was on way to his destination in a private car and was later killed by forces in a fake encounter. IGP Kashmir, S M Sahai termed the killing of HM Commander as a 'major breakthrough' in counter insurgency operations in Valley. The Kashmir Police had also announced Rs one lakh reward for anyone providing information about Riyaz and other militants. Meanwhile, informed sources said that a little before this midnight security forces detected and neutralised a powerful IED on the national highway at Letapora which had been planted by militants apparently to target the Holy Mace caravan passing through the same spot on Tuesday. Sources claimed that troops had averted a possible tragedy by detecting the IED.