A top Hizbul Mujahideen commander wanted in the killing of an RSS functionary and his PSO was killed in a gunfight with security forces in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday, officials said.
An Army personnel also lost his life in the five hour-long encounter which started when the security forces launched a joint search operation in Posta-Potra village in Gundana area, 26 kms from Doda town, following information about presence of some terrorists, they said.
The officials said the search operation is going on as security forces are searching the debris of the three-storied house which was raised to the ground during the encounter.
"We have recovered the body of a terrorist from the scene of the gunfight so far who was identified as Tahir Ahmad Bhat, a resident of Malangpora village of south Kashmir's Pulwama district. The deceased was a close associate of newly appointed Hizbul Mujahideen operational chief Saifullah and was assigned the task of reviving terrorism in Chenab valley region," Inspector General of Police, Jammu Zone, Mukesh Singh told reporters in Jammu.
Describing his killing as a major setback to Hizbul Mujahideen and a big success for the security forces, he said the slain terrorist was part of the group which shot dead an RSS functionary along with his personal security officer in nearby Kishtwar district in April last year.
He was also behind the fabrication of an IED which was used in an abortive attempt to target a CRPF convoy at Banihal along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway in March last year, the officer said.
"Bhat's killing will create a huge deterrence to the revival of militancy in Chenab valley, in its infant stage. The Doda district has virtually been cleared of terrorism once again and the plan of the terrorist to carry out attacks on security forces has been thwarted," Singh said.
The senior police official said the AK assault rifle, which was seized from the dead terrorist, was the same which had been taken away by militants after killing the RSS functionary and his PSO.
Briefing about the encounter, the IGP said a joint operation was launched late Saturday night following information about presence of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander in a house in the village.
"The village is about five to six hours of walk from the last motorable road. The search parties came under fire from the target house around 7 am, triggering an encounter which lasted for five hours and resulted in the killing of the Hizbul commander," he said.
Officials said an Army jawan was critically injured in the initial firing from the holed up terrorists and later succumbed to injuries while being evacuated to hospital.
The IGP said Bhat had joined terrorism early last year and was directed by his mentors to target the security forces and carry out some "sensitive and sensational" attacks in Chenab Valley to create insecurity among the people and disturb the peaceful atmosphere.
"He had the capacity to organize well planned attacks on the forces. He has been wanted by law for complicity in several crimes including attacks on security establishments and civilian atrocities in Pulwama and Shopian districts of Kashmir as well," Singh said.
This was the second encounter between security forces and terrorists in Doda district this year.
Earlier, Hizbul Mujahideen commander Haroon Abbas was killed in the same area by security forces on January 15.
Earlier this month, two Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists were arrested along with some arms and ammunition in the district.
Doda along with nearby Kishtwar district has witnessed increased terrorist activity lately.
These Chenab valley districts were declared terrorism-free over a decade ago.