November 2018 News

Top LeT Commander And Prime Accused In Shujaat Bukhari's Murder Killed In Encounter

28 November 2018
The Wire
Mudasir Ahmad

Srinagar: One of Kashmir's most wanted militant commanders, Naveed Jhat, who had escaped from police custody earlier this year, was killed in a gun battle with security forces in central Kashmir's Budgam district on Wednesday. Jhat was a 'prime suspect' in the assassination of senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari. Jhat's killing is being described by the police as a major blow to militant organisation Lashkar-e-Tayyabba (LeT), as he was the only surviving top commander of the outfit, which had been trying to revive its base in the Valley. A senior police official said forces laid siege on Kuthpora village in Chattergam area late on Tuesday evening following credible inputs about the presence of Jhat, alias Hanzalla, there. The gun battle raged on till the break of dawn on Wednesday, and Jhat and another militant, whose identity is being ascertained by the police, were killed. 'It is a big success for us,' director general of police Dilbagh Singh said at a press conference in Srinagar. A senior police official said Jhat had crossed over to Budgam, which borders Pulwama district of south Kashmir, 'some days ago'. 'They (militants) are facing intense pressure in the south owing to recent successful operations by the forces in which more than 22 terrorists have been killed,' said the police official. 'He (Jhat), in coordination with some local terrorists, was trying to recruit more boys into the outfit and his shifting to Budgam was part of that plan.' According to DGP Singh, Jhat was a 'prime suspect' in the killing of Shujat Bukhari, editor of Rising Kashmir newspaper. Bukhari was shot dead by three gunmen outside his office on June 14, along with his two security guards. Bukhari also edited two other papers, Buland Kashmir and Sangermal. 'Had he been captured alive we would have got more leads into the (Bukhari) case. The level up to which he was involved in the assassination (of Bukhari), everything has got buried now with his (Jhat's) killing,' said the DGP. He, however, said the investigation into the case would continue. In a statement issued this afternoon, police said Jhat was wanted by law enforcement for his 'complicity in a series of terror crimes including killing of Shujaat Bukhari, attacks on security establishments and many other civilian atrocities'. Police had said that Jhat executed the murder plan, along with Malik and Muzaffar Ahmad alias Talha, both from south Kashmir. 'He figured as a suspect in the case pertaining to the assassination of Shujaat Bukhari and his security personnel. In the aforementioned case, which is under investigation, a hue and cry notice was issued against Naveed Jatt and three others on the basis of material evidence collected,' said today's police statement. Jhat is the second militant accused in the assassination of Bukhari to be killed in less than a week. On November 23, top Lashkar commander Azad Ahmad Malik alias Azad Dada was killed by the forces in an early morning encounter in Bijbehara area of Anantnag. 'Malik was wanted in the murder case as he was one among the suspects,' a police official had told The Wire. The LeT had, however, denied any role in Bukhari's assassination, saying it was ready to cooperate in an international probe into the killing. United Jehad Council, an amalgam of various militant outfits based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, too had distanced itself from the allegations. In a statement, UJC chief Syed Salahuddin had also sought an international probe into the assassination. The DGP said they would ask 'competent authorities' in the state government to write to the Centre to take up the matter of handing over Jhat's body to Pakistan. A resident of Multan in Pakistan, Jhat had allegedly infiltrated the border into Kashmir in October 2012. He operated in the northern part of the Valley for some time before shifting his base to southern Kashmir. 'At the time of his entry into Kashmir, he was a minor,' said a senior police official. After shifting to the south, Jhat worked under top LeT commanders Abu Qasim and Abu Dujana, who were killed in separate encounters later. In a short span of time, he grew within the ranks, but was arrested from a hideout in Kulgam in June 2014. However, he dramatically escaped from police custody in January this year, when he was taken to a Srinagar hospital from the city central jail for a medical checkup. In the shootout that took place at the hospital, two policemen were killed. 'He (Jhat) was involved in the killing of an ASI in Pulwama in May 2013, a series of grenade attacks on security forces and the killing of CRPF personnel at Awneera Shopian in August 2013. Besides, he was also involved in conspiring and executing several bank robberies and terror attacks in south Kashmir, including the attack on a court complex in Pulwama in which two policemen were killed, an attack on a polling party in Shopian on April 2014 in which several civilians sustained injuries and one presiding officer named Zai-ul-Haq Wani was killed, and an attack on a police party at Bongam Shopian on June 2014 in which several civilians and policemen were injured,' said the police statement. During the last 11 months Jhat operated in south Kashmir in coordination with his associates, including slain Malik and top commanders of the Hizbul Mujahideen, to revive militancy in Kashmir. He was the LeT's face in Kashmir. His outfit has remained at the forefront of militancy in the restive region for last decade and more. The outfit, however, suffered major blows during the last 2.5 years as almost all top LeT commanders, including Qasim and Dujana, Majid Zargar, Junaid Mattoo, Bashir Lashkari, Ayub Lelhari, Showkat Tak, Shakor Dar and Malik, were killed in separate gunfights in the south. 'All of them remained active for four to five years. He (Jhat) was the last surviving top commander of the outfit in the Valley. With his killing we have now eliminated all top militants commanders of Lashkar,' said the police official, describing Jhat's killing as 'deadly blow' to the LeT.