Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
SRINAGAR: Within a month of his master stroke on the State’s most important counterinsurgent Sub Inspector Altaf Dar who was killed by him in a dramatic assault in Bandipora on October 7th , Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Jammu and Kashmir operational chief Abdul Rehman alias Abu Qasim has been killed in a joint operation by Police and security forces in Kulgam area of South Kashmir on Thursday.
Inspector General of Police Kashmir Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani told STATE TIMES that Qasim’s elimination had become “a great challenge” for J&K Police after Altaf’s killing. Qasim was killed at Khandeypora, not far away from Altaf’s residential village of Zanglipora.
“We had specific information about two militants including Qasim. We laid a cordon at 1700 hours yesterday and tightened it to ensure that no militant escapes. At 0200 hours, Qasim, alongwith another militants came out of the hideout and attempted to escape while breaking the cordon. He lobbed grenades and fired volleys of AK-47 fire. However, the Police and troops on vantage positions shot him dead in retaliation”, Gillani said.
IGP said that involved in scores of subversive and terrorist strikes on Police, security forces and civilians, Qasim, who was from Punjab Pakistan, had remained elusive in the last five to six years. He had escaped from over a dozen cordon-and-search operations. Kulgam District Police, CRPF 18th Bn and Rashtriya Rifles 9th Bn participated in the operation.
IGP said that J&K Police and National Investigation Agency (NIA) had declared Qasim as the most wanted militant and announced cash reward of Rs 20 lakh on his head. “It was exclusive Police operation. This is our most important achievement in the last several years”, Gillani said.
DIG South Kashmir Nitish Kumar described Qasim as LeT’s most important militant of current times. “He had meticulous guerrilla training and exceptional organisational capabilities. Thus, he was the most dangerous terrorist. He had escaped from dozens of operations and carried out successful militant strikes, Besides, he had recruited dozens of youths as cadres of LeT”, DIG said.
Reports from Kulgam said that hundreds of people converged on Khandeypora village and they forced the Police and security forces to call off the operation. Officials, seeking anonymity, said that one or two holed up militants managed to escape after mingling with the favourable crowds. Police handed over Qasim’s body to the local Auqaf which was subsequently carried in a funeral procession from DPL Kulgam to Bogam village. Residents of Khandeypora insisted that the body be buried in their village but residents of Bogam took the coffin forcibly to their village.
An intelligence arm of J&K Police put the number of the participants in the funeral procession as “over 10,000”. However, DIG Nitish Kumar claimed that “maximum of 2,500 people” attended Qasim’s Namaaz-e-Janazah at Bogam. This area of South Kashmir is a stronghold of the separatist Jamaat-e-Islami and the mainstream Peoples Democratic Party.
Independent reports said that the participants in the funeral procession shouted anti-India, pro-Pakistan and pro-Azadi slogans. Some of them carried Pakistani national flags and black mourning flags. The participants clashed with Police and CRPF at several places while carrying the slain militant’s coffin from one village to another.
Qasim’s Namaaz-e-Janazah was conducted at Government Higher Secondary School of Bogam by Hurriyat (Geelani) activist Shabir Ahmad Dar. Without any organisation’s call, shutdown was observed in Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama districts besides parts of Anantnag district.
Sources said that Police in Shopian arrested around 60 people of Pulwama and seized five of their vehicles on the allegation that they were enforcing shutdown over Qasim’s death in the encounter.
Minutes after the funeral prayers, one middle-aged woman, Nasreena, appeared at Bogam and claimed that the slain militant was her brother Yaqoob and not the LeT chief Abu Qasim of Pakistan. She told the gathering that one of her brother’s ears was bigger and another smaller and he had left his home 15 years back to become a militant. She claimed that she had recognised the body as her brother as it had one bigger and another smaller ear.
Even as the dispute continued for two hours, two militants equipped with AK-47 rifles pronounced their decision that the body would be buried only in Bogam. They asserted before the gathering with several gunshots in the air that it was none other than their Pakistani commander Abu Qasim. Thereupon, the body was buried in a local graveyard in Bogam.
IGP Kashmir said that Abu Qasim was involved in dozens of terrorist attacks and killings including planning of Udhampur fidayeen attack in which two BSF soldiers died and 12 others got injured on August 5, 2015.
In addition to killing SI Altaf Dar, Qasim with other militants had attacked an Army vehicle killing eight soldiers at Hyderpora on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit in August 2013. On his direction, two LeT militants had attacked noted cardiologist and former Director of SKIMS Dr Sheikh Jalal and killed two of his PSOs in Pampore in July 2013. Later critically injured Dr Jalal died at AIIMS in New Delhi.
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