Burhan Wani's successor Sabzar Ahmad Bhat trapped in Tral, locked in fierce encounter

Srinagar: Top Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, who replaced Burhan Muzafar Wani, as the militant outfits operational chief in Kashmir, has been trapped in a gunfight with security forces at his hometown in Tral area of South Kashmir on Saturday evening.

Sabzar Ahmad Bhat (circled) in an undated video. Screen grab from YouTube

Sabzar Ahmad Bhat (circled) in an undated video. Screen grab from YouTube

Sources said that police acted on a specific information about the presence of militants in a house in Tral following which an encounter started at around 6 pm on Saturday. Militants responded with heavy gunfire which was going on till the reports last came in. Jammu and Kashmir, Director General of police, SP Vaid, confirmed the presence of Sabzar in the encounter.

"We have an information that Sabzar is trapped in the gunfight along with a Pakistani militant," he said, adding that the firing with the holed in militants continued for over three hours. The encounter is taking place at Hafoo area of Tral, which is some 10 km away from the local police station.

The gunfight was still going on and the paramilitary forces were deployed in strength around the area that incidentally lies close to the house of Burhan. A local police source said that one of the assistant sub-inspectors of the CRPF was overpowered by the local youth, who protested following the encounter and they snatched away his rifle. Sources said that the police have imposed curfew like restrictions after the people hit the streets and marched towards the encounter site.

Following this, there are reports that the forces used loudspeakers asking people not to march towards the encounter site. However, people defied restrictions and resorted to heavy stone pelting due to which police had to retaliate and carry out firing in the air. Although there are reports of some civilian injuries, police sources said that it couldn’t be confirmed.

Vaid said that the people have resorted to fierce stone pelting and the situation was however under control.

"The security forces are on the job and we are trying our best to ensure that there are no civilian casualties," he said.

Police sources said that Sabzar was responsible for all the recent recruitments of youth in Hizbul Mujahideen. A large number of youths have joined militant ranks following the last seven-month long uprising in Kashmir. Unlike Burhan who used to often feature in WhatsApp groups and social networking sites, Sabzar had been mostly remaining underground.

He had only initially featured in the photos and videos along with Burhan which went viral on social networking sites before the killing of the former Hizbul Mujahideen commander. Sabzar had snatched the rifle from a member of the armed forces during the unrest that followed the killing of the brother of Burhan Wani in Tral and was later trained in the forest areas before taking part in a number of militant activities.

When the forces had killed Burhan’s brother, Khalid Muzafar Wani, the people of Tral erupted in protests. At the bus stand that is close to Burhan's home, youths swooped down on armed forces deployed there and Sabzar managed to snatch a rifle. The forests that lie in the vicinity of the Tral area are believed to have been the training ground for the militant. The Tral area is surrounded by the forests of Gulshanpora, Gusoo and Shikargah where militants get the safe sanctuary and Bhat has received training in these very areas. Sabzar is from the Ruthsuna area, which is only 5 km from the home of Burhan, said a senior police official.

According to a police official who spoke to Firstpost in August last year, “it is very unlikely that (Sabzar) would have crossed the border for the weapons training in Pakistan.”

Besides the attacks on the panchs, sarpanchs and security forces, Sabzar is known to have carried out the killings of civilians who were believed to have been the informers of the forces. While Burhan was an 'A++ listed' militant, police officials said, Sabzar was an 'A category' militant. The police have announced that people who can give information about Sabzar will be adequately rewarded.

Local residents in the South Kashmir areas of Tral said that it has been due to the excesses by the forces that the youths like Burhan and Sabzar have joined the militancy. However, a security official had said in August last year that it has been due to Sabzar’s close proximity with Burhan that led to him joining the militancy.

“He knew Burhan and was his close associate, but he was asked to prove his loyalty,” the security official had said then.

Superintendent of Police, Awantipora, Shridhar Patil, had said in August 2016 that Sabzar had many cases pending against him. “The militant is involved many cases and remains one of the most wanted militants for us,” he had said.

An official hads said in Lst August that Sabzar was among the six militants from Tral who were active then. He also reportedly featured in a rally at Kareemabad area of Pulwama and developed an over ground workers (OGWs) network. “The militant has managed the movement due to the support for the militancy now in South Kashmir areas. It is due to the very good OGW network that militants like Sabzar have managed to create a wide support base for themselves,” a senior police official had said.

Sabzar was earlier found wearing battle fatigues and carrying an AK-47 rifle in a forest in a group photo of the militants that went viral.

In Kareembad, at the militant graveyard, Sabzar, who sports long hair and beard, features in a forest alongside Burhan in a photograph.


Published Date: Mar 04, 2017 10:21 pm | Updated Date: Mar 04, 2017 10:37 pm