Army soldiers during an encounter with militants in Pulwama district of south Kashmir. File photo/ AFP
Indian forces have killed the leader of an Al Qaeda affiliated militant group in Kashmir, police said on Friday, triggering protests in parts of the disputed region.
Zakir Rashid Bhat, 25, was trapped by security forces in a three-storey house in southern Kashmir late on Thursday, said a senior police officer, adding that the house was set ablaze during the operation.
“As we were clearing debris from the house, he tried to get up. Our troops fired at him and he was killed,” said the officer, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to media.
Protests by supporters of Bhat broke out in parts of Kashmir on Thursday and there were reports of demonstrations early on Friday, the police officer said.
Fearing more unrest, authorities said schools were closed and railway services suspended in the affected areas.
Any large scale unrest in the region would be a challenge for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he prepares for a second term after winning a general election on Thursday.
Bhat, a former commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest of the militant groups fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir, founded his own group and declared its association with Al Qaeda in 2017.
Also known as Zakir Musa, he was seen as a successor to Burhan Wani, a popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander whose death in 2016 sparked clashes that left 90 civilians dead.
During the search operation, as the presence of terrorists got ascertained they were given an opportunity to surrender, however they fired indiscriminately upon the joint search party which was retaliated leading to an encounter.
Pakistan’s president has called on India to immediately lift all restrictions on people in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, ignoring opposition calls for Prime Minister Imran Khan to step down over his alleged bad governance.
Calling it “the hub of terrorism,’ India has dismissed Pakistan’s attempts to raise the Kashmir issue in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) after it had failed to get a hearing in the Security Council.
A number of areas in the country, on Tuesday, witnessed light to heavy rain, accompanied by lightning and thunder, because of the country being affected by a surface depression.
Drake added that Hale left a manifest and maps of the school detailing control points, entry and exit points, and was "prepared for a confrontation with law enforcement."
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