3 top LeT militants shot dead in Handwara

1 February 2009
The Daily Excelsior

Srinagar: The security forces in North Kashmir continued their successful drive against militancy as three militants believed to be cadres of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) were killed in a 10-hour long encounter in forest area of Handwara in Kupwara district, officials said. A joint team of Special Operations Group of Police and troops of 21 Rashtriya Rifles launched search operations in forest area of Wadar Bala in Handwara area in the wee hours today following specific information about presence of militants in the area, the officials said. As the security forces advanced towards the location of the ultras, they opened heavy and indiscriminate fire, triggering a fierce gunbattle, they said. The officials said the exchange of fire between the two sides began at 7.00 a.m and continued till 4.00 p.m and the encounter culminated in the death of three unidentified militants. Although the police are in the process of ascertaining the identity and group affiliation of the slain militants, a senior police official told EXCELSIOR that Lashkar-e-Toiba militant outfit was the dominant group operating in the area and the ultras were most probably affiliated to LeT. A Defence spokesman, while giving details of the incident, said three terrorists were killed in an operation by 21 Rashtriya Rifles of 'Kilo' Force after a fierce gun battle in a difficult and inhospitable mountainous region of Wadarbala forest under Zachaldar police limits of Handwara Tehsil. 'Braving intense cold conditions and hazardous terrain conditions, troops of 21 Rashtriya Rifles established contact with the terrorists in the early hours today. On reaching the outer fringes of the suspected hideout, militants opened fire on the advancing troops,' he said. Two AK-56, one AK-47, one pistol, nine magazines and large quantity of ammunition besides ration and logistic materials were recovered from the hideout, which is perched in a snowbound area at a height of 2700 meters above sea level, he added. Although police said the encounter has ended and the bodies of the slain militants were being brought down, the Defence spokesman said operation was still in progress. Security forces have enjoyed fair bit of success against militants in North Kashmir killing as many as 19 ultras including two self styled commanders of LeT Abu Hamza and Abu Abdul Rehman - since the beginning of 2009, he said adding one third of the militants killed this year were in Handwara area alone. On January 28, four militants were killed in three encounters in Sopore, Handwara and Bandipora areas of North Kashmir while two Army jawans were also killed in the action. The officer attributed the recent successes to the strength of intelligence networks operating in the area and also the help rendered by local populace. 'Information is not only coming from our own sources but also from common masses I think the people have realized the futility of violence and now want to see peace return,' he added. Meanwhile, a controversy has erupted over the identity of one of the slain militants at Ayatmullah in Bandipora district on January 28. Initially, the police had claimed that both the killed militants in the encounter were from Pakistan but today clarified that the ultra earlier identified as Shakil alias Ganja was not from Pakistan but a local youth Afaq Ahmad Bhat, son of Haji Mohammad Shafi, a resident of Bomai in Sopore area of Baramulla district. 'In continuation to the encounter at Bandipora on Jan 28, one of the killed militants, code Shakil alias Ganja, has been identified as Afaq Ahmad Bhat, resident of Bumai Sopore,' a police spokesman said without elaborating any further. The police officials maintain that Afaq was an active militant for past several years and was involved in many militancy-related incidents of violence. They said Afaq was identified following recovery of some documents from the site of the encounter at Ayatmullah and accordingly his family was informed. However, family of the slain youth rubbished the police version claiming that Afaq had gone missing on August 22, 2008 during the separatist sponsored 'Eidgah Chalo' call. As per the records of Police Station Sopore, no missing report has been lodged with regard to disappearance of Afaq during last year, the officials said. .