Kashmir’s most-wanted militant Riyaz Naikoo killed

Published : May 08, 2020 13:06 IST

Riyaz Naikoo (in blue T-shirt) speaks at the funeral of a Hizb militant, in Gulzarpora in Pulwama district, south Kashmir, in July, 2017. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

Kashmir’s most-wanted militant Riyaz Naikoo, who was also the face of home-grown militancy, having succeeded Burhan Wani as the chief commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, was eliminated by the security forces in Awantipora in a gun battle on April 6.

Naikoo, 35, was once a Maths teacher, known for giving free tuitions to children from poor households. He transitioned into a militant following the summer protests in 2010 over the killing of an unarmed civilian. His family alleges that he was harassed and beaten by the police and that determined his choice, an allegation that finds support from most families living in the villages in Kashmir, who attest to a culture of illegal detentions and arbitrary night raids.

Naikoo rose to prominence after August 2017 when Yasin Itoo, who became the Hizbul chief after Burhan Wani's death, was killed. Under Naikoo, the Hizbul’s militant activities spiralled and the police allege that he was the mastermind behind several recent attacks on the police and pro-India political workers. The police claimed that Naikoo was the man behind the killing of six migrant labourers in Kulgam in October last year and was responsible for the abduction of policemen and the looting of weapons from the residence of a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) MLA in August 2018.

Naiko was categorised as an A++ militant and carried a bounty of Rs.12 lakh on his head. He proved to be a successful draw for young men in Kashmir who joined the Hizbul in large numbers even as there was an overdrive of encounters of newly recruited militants under the Centre’s Operation All Out. Naikoo was also successful in building a robust network of over-ground workers.

As per initial reports, Naikoo had visited his home at Beighpora village in Pulwama to meet his ailing mother. The Army received a tip-off and laid a cordon-and-search operation on the intervening night of April 5 and 6, blocking all the exit points of the village. Naikoo was killed along with an associate in the ensuing gun battle on the afternoon of April 6.

The authorities suspended all mobile and Internet services on Wednesday, fearing reprisal civilian protests given that Naikoo was the last surviving commander of the Hizbul with mass support. However, reports suggest that in several pockets of Srinagar and Pulwama, people took to the streets over the encounter.

The killing of Naikoo came days after Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, the commanding officer of 21Rashtriya Rifles, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh and Jammu & Kashmir Police Sub-Inspector Sageer Pathan alias Qazi were killed during an operation in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district on the night of May 2.

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