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Hizbul Follows Lashkar, Jaish Lead With Secret Identities for New Operations Chief and His Deputy

Zubair Wani, Farooq Bhat and Ashraf Bhat are the three possible new Hizbul operations chief identified by security forces.

Zubair Wani, Farooq Bhat and Ashraf Bhat are the three possible new Hizbul operations chief identified by security forces.

Even though Hizbul has not named its top leader, police and security agencies have zeroed in on two to three names who could lead the outfit.

For the first time, homegrown militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen has used an assumed name for its newly appointed operations chief and his deputy to keep the security agencies at bay after Sunday’s killing of the outfit’s previous head, Dr Saifullah.

The Hizbul has named Abu Ubaida as its new operational commander and Musaib ul Islam as the deputy commander. In keeping their real identities a secret, the Hizbul is following the practice started by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, who generally refrain from making their hierarchy public.

The last time, Hizbul had named Haider alias Saifullah as the chief of operations but it was evidently clear that he was the top man of the outfit because the succession line was more or less understood by the cadre. Also, Saifullah happened to be very close to Riyaz Naikoo, his predecessor. He also figured in the Burhan Wani picture of senior commanders.

Even though the outfit has not named their top leader – this could according to police sources be a matter of strategy or unclear succession line – police and security agencies have zeroed in on two to three names who could lead one of the oldest militant outfits operating out of Kashmir.

Police sources said Farooq Bhat, alias Nalli, who hails from Yaripora village of Kulgam district and Zubair Wani from Dehruna, Kokernag could have been given the top responsibility for running the outfit. It could also be Ashraf Bhat alias Moulvi, a veteran militant from Kokernag who worked with Burhan, sources noted.

Nalli joined the group in 2015 and is one of the most experienced militants in Kashmir. He comes from a rich and educated family that is associated with the apple trade.

Before joining militancy, Zubair Wani was a research scholar in sociology. He joined militancy in 2018 and comes from a poor background. His father is a labourer and he has three sisters and a younger brother. The family lives in Dehruna village in Kokernag.

Ashraf is one of the oldest surviving militants of the outfit and has lots of experience in handling organisational structure and building an overground network.

Having suffered massive reverses, the Hizbul numbers have come down drastically in the last four years. From an estimated 100 to120 odd militants during Burhan Wani’s leadership to close to 50 now, the Hizbul has been overtaken in strength by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad in Kashmir now, a police officer dealing with militancy told News 18.

Meanwhile, the decision to appoint the new leadership was taken in command council meeting chaired by Hizbul’s commander-in-chief Syed Salahuddin after representatives deliberated on the situation arising due to the killing of Saifullah, a press handout said. The outfit has decided to continue the struggle till the goal is achieved, Saleem Hashmi, its spokesperson was quoted in local wire agencies.

With inputs from Qayoom Khan

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