Srinagar: In a twist of events in the restive Kashmir Valley, pro-Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) militants and insurgents affiliated with dominant pro-Pakistan militant organisations have started clashing with each other.
On Wednesday evening, a shootout was reported from Sirhama village of Bijbehara area in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. It appeared to be a usual cordon-and-search operation by forces to trap the militants. But security forces in the district were surprised by the shooting as they had launched no such operation in the area.
The next day, the dead body of a militant was recovered from the spot while another was apprehended alive by the forces in the injured condition.
The dead militant was identified as Adil Ahmed Dass, a resident of nearby Waghama village, who had claimed to be affiliated with the Islamic State’s Hind (Indian) Province (ISHP). The injured militant was identified as Arif Bhat, hailing from Fatehpora village of the district, and affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
Bhat was taken to a hospital for treatment and the police said they are investigating the matter.
But on Thursday, an unverified website published an article claiming that Dass -- who was earlier affiliated with the LeT and had switched over to the ISIS-affiliated group – had been was tricked by three militants, two from the LeT and one from the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), and later killed.
The allegation was reiterated by another ISIS-supporting militant, Khateeb Ahmad, in a video circulated on social media.
In the video, Khateeb, believed to be active with the outfit for the last six months, claimed that the three militants had offered Dass their support and expressed willingness to join the ‘ISHP’.
In the video message, Khateeb displays images in his phone in which the three militants are seen wearing a black T-shirt with the ISIS symbol. These photos were earlier also circulated on social media.
Khateeb claims that Zubair Wani of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Arif Bhat and Burhan (both from the LeT) had tricked Dass by expressing their willingness to join the organisation.
“This is proven by the fact that they captured photographs with him (Dass),” Khateeb says in the video.
Dass was accompanied by his associate Turaib. Images on social media also show Wani, Bhat and Burhan wearing ISIS-badge printed black T-shirt and posing with Dass, flanked by AK-47 rifles.
The ‘ISHP’ militant Khateeb claims in the video that after the photo session, the militants decided to offer prayers, asking Turaib to lead.
“As soon as they finished group prayers, they fired at Adil Dass and killed him. They fired upon Turaib but he escaped and their own associate (Arif) was hit by a bullet,” Khateeb says in the video.
The next day, an injured Arif was arrested by security forces.
Police sources said they believe that Dass was killed in the infighting among the militant groups. “However, we are trying to dig deeper into the investigation,” a police officer told News18.
The incident comes over a month after the Islamic State announced a new ‘India branch’ following the killing of its operative, Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi, in south Kashmir’s Shopian.
This is the first time in the past few years when militant groups operating in Kashmir have been involved in infighting.
In July 2017, Zakir Musa, commander of Hizbul Mujahideen in the Valley, became the head of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH), an Al-Qaida affiliate and called for ‘Shariat ya Shahadat’ (Islamic law or martyrdom).
Musa spoke out against separatist leaders and called for a global Islamist set-up in Kashmir. He even threatened to behead Hurriyat leaders calling for a political solution to the Kashmir issue, “if they come in the way of establishing Islamic rule in Kashmir”.
The Hizb had immediately distanced itself from Musa’s statement, terming it his “personal opinion” which was “unacceptable”. In retaliation, Musa parted ways with the Hizib.
In the video, Khateeb has described the militants of Hizb and LeT as “dogs” and has attacked Hizbul Mujahideen’s operational commander Riyaz Naikoo, calling him “worthless”. He even described them as “murtad” (apostates), claiming they are “fighting for Pakistan”.
Khateeb has also accused both Hizb and LeT of killing a number of militants following the IS-affiliate’s ideology.
Over the last few years, ISIS flags have been waved at protests in the downtown area of Srinagar and other parts of the Valley. However, the government has claimed the outfit has no presence in the state.
On January 3, 2018, the Ministry of Home Affairs had stated in Parliament that “nothing has been established on ground that ISIS is operating in any part of the Kashmir Valley”.
Last June, then Director General of Police SP Vaid said that ISJK (Islamic State’s local chapter) was active in Kashmir.
On June 22, the state police confirmed ISJK’s presence in the state and said four of its local militants were killed in Srigufwara village in Anantnag district. They were identified as Dawood Ahmad Sofi from Srinagar, Majid Manzoor Dar from Pulwama, Aadil Rehman Bhat from Bijbehara and Mohammad Ashraf Itoo from Srigufwara.
Police sources said the militants were earlier affiliated with Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen (TuM), but were later inspired by the ISIS module.
Since then, a number of militants affiliated with ISIS ideology have been killed in the Valley. A few attacks in the Valley have also been claimed by the IS propaganda channels.
While different militant groups have clashed in the Valley and killed each other’s cadre since the 1990s, this is the first instance in many years where a militant outfit has blamed another group for killing its operative.
The rift between the militant groups supporting Pakistan and those of pan-Islamic-state ideology is not hidden in Kashmir. However, the latest incident only indicates that the differences have become bloodier.