Srinagar: In a significant victory for the security forces, Zakir Musa's successor and chief of Kashmir's al-Qaeda unit, Hameed Lelhari, was gunned down by the security forces in an encounter at Jammu and Kashmir's Awantipora on Tuesday evening.
Lelhari, 30, was among three militants of the terror outfit killed in an encounter which began in the outskirts of Awantipore as the security forces launched a cordon and search operation following inputs about the presence of terrorists in the area.
"Three terrorists killed in Awantipora encounter yesterday have been identified as Naveed Tak, Hamid Lone aka Hamid Lelhari and Junaid Bhat. Arms and ammunition recovered," Kashmir Zone Police said in a statement.
#Awantipora #encounter update:— Kashmir Zone Police (@KashmirPolice) October 23, 2019
03 #killed #terrorists identified as Naveed Tak, Hamid Lone @ Hamid Lelhari and Junaid Bhat involved in several #terrorcrimes. #Arms & ammunition recovered. Case registered. @JmuKmrPolice
Al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH) had named Lelhari as its new commander after Zakir Musa's death in May. Musa, the founder of the AGH in Kashmir, had vowed allegiance to the Al-Qaeda and was killed in an encounter in May.
Addressing a hurriedly called press conference, a day after the three terrorists were killed in Tral area of south Kashmir's Pulwama district, the police chief said the operation was carried out following a tip-off from the local police.
"All the killed terrorists as per police records were part of the Zakir Musa group and were wanted by police for their complicity in a series of terror crimes, including attacks on security establishments and civilian atrocities," Singh said.
The police chief said the anti-militancy operation had dealt a severe blow to the AGH.
According to Singh, the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed was also trying to coordinate with other terror groups, including the AGH, in Kashmir to carry out attacks.
"The AGH has been wiped out but some elements who are overground workers are there. They suddenly crop up and join militant ranks... But, as of now, the AGH has been wiped out from Kashmir," Singh said.
"The JeM is trying to coordinate with every militant group in Kashmir. JeM and LeT get directions from Pakistan on who to target, what type of violence to incite and at which level. So JeM and LeT are both trying to coordinate with every group," he added.
Asked if the AGH's contact with JeM meant it was in Pakistan's hold, the DGP said the connection is "indicated".
"It is difficult to say but I would say that at a local level that connection is visible, that connection is being indicated, that it is being directly run by Pakistan as of now," he said.
The police chief also said a "sizeable number" of militants had infiltrated since August 5, when the Centre announced that it was revoking Jammu and Kashmir's special status and bifurcating it into two union territories.
"(It is) difficult to give a number of militants who have come in after August 5. But their number is sizeable that much I can say," he told reporters in response to a question.
“Their sightings have taken place at a number of places in north as well as south Kashmir. Going by that, we feel the number is sizeable. It is not that big that we should be very worried about it. As it happens, they send some number, we deplete some number. So, therefore, that process is on," he said.
Asserting that the decline in militancy was troubling Pakistan, Singh said it was the reason the neighbouring country was pushing in terrorists through infiltration attempts.
"Few militants have infiltrated, but many of their attempts have been rendered unsuccessful. Ceasefire violations are on in Rajouri-Poonch, Hira Nagar-Samba, Karnah-Uri, Machhil, Keran and Gurez sectors and it has become a routine. Whenever Pakistan violates the ceasefire, its attempt is push in more militants... (Pakistan) Army and ISI are fully involved at (militant) launch pads near the LoC to push in militants," he said.
Asked about the detention of youth in Kashmir following the Centre's decision to abrogate Article 370, he said there is a lot of misinformation and propaganda.
Some "very responsible media circles", he added, quote figures without verification or without getting in touch with them. Most youth picked up were let off after counselling.
"In fact, overall also if you see, out of every five persons who were arrested, four were left and only about one was retained. We are not fond of keeping people in our custody unnecessarily. All the detentions were aimed at the maintenance of public order," he said.
According to Singh, no one has been tortured and no youngster or teenager or juvenile arrested or detained.
"In some cases, where the age was doubtful, that age has been verified and after verification, we have taken legal action. And wherever a juvenile was arrested, provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act were followed very strictly...,” he said.
The DGP said arrangements had been made for local body polls and they will be peaceful.
There were apprehensions that youth would join militancy after the Centre's August 5 decision but those were unfounded, the police chief said.
"People had apprehensions that youth will join militancy in huge numbers. But... very few youth have joined militant ranks in this period (since August 5)... Five to six youth are missing, but we cannot confirm that they have joined militancy. There can be other reasons as well, he said.
(With inputs from PTI)