Faces of Kashmir militancy part 1: Police harassment, religious beliefs echo among Valley's most wanted youths

Editor's note: The Indian Army has released a list of 12 most wanted terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. This is the first in a two-part series that profiles these wanted men.

Days after the Indian security forces killed top Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen commander Sabzar Ahmed Bhat in an encounter in Tral area of Pulwama district, the Indian Army released a list of 12 most wanted militants in Jammu and Kashmir. A majority of these wanted men are locals who joined the militant ranks over the last few years, except for two of them who worked as 'over ground workers' for years fro different militant outfits before joining them fully recently.

Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo alias Zubair

File image of Reyaz Naikoo (alias Zubair). Indian Army

File image of Reyaz Naikoo (alias Zubair). Indian Army

One of the oldest surviving militants in south Kashmir, Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo has, according to police, survived for more than 54 months only because he trusts no one, including his own comrades. Naikoo, 29, a tall lanky man with a short beard, appears like a school teacher and is among those militants who believes in the power of social media to galvanise support for the new age militancy in the Kashmir Valley.

A resident of Durbug village in Awantipora town, which is part of the Pulwama district, and divided by national highway 1-A, Naikoo was earlier district commander of Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen. He is likely to be the next operational chief of the organisation in Kashmir after Zakir Musa parted ways from the Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen. He is categorised as A++ and carries a bounty of over Rs 12 lakh on his head.

In January last year, Naikoo appeared at the funeral of Shariq Ahmad Bhat — a Lashkar-e-Taiba militant who was killed in an encounter with two of his associates — and fired several shots in the air. This revived the early tradition of militants paying tributes to their fallen comrades. The video of the gun salute went viral on social networking sites and has almost become a routine now.

Intelligence sources say Naikoo is the most moderate militant among his peers, who is a votary of a secular society rather than Islamic caliphate and imposition of Shariat. Musa had left Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen because his peers at the militant organisation didn't agree with his goal to establish an Islamic caliphate in Kashmir.

Naikoo had, like former Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, invited Kashmiri Pandits to return to Valley in his first video message after Wani was killed by the Indian security forces. "We will welcome them (Kashmiri Pandits) warmly and there is always a place for them in our hearts. They are part of our nation. We are their protectors and not their enemies," he said in the video.

Security forces say he has been active in the Pulwama-Tral belt and also moves sometimes to Kulgam and Shopian. “Luck has always favoured him. We arrived at a house 55 seconds after he left from the back door,” a police official says. "His appearance is also problematic. He looks like anything but a militant,” he added.

Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Moosa

Zakir Rashid Bhatt alias Moosa. Indian Army

Zakir Rashid Bhatt alias Moosa. Indian Army

Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Moosa is believed to be the head of a splinter group of Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen which he floated along with a group of his followers after a fight over ideology within the organisation. Moosa had said in a video message on 10 May that most of the people in Kashmir were involved in a fight for a secular state which was 'haram' in Islam and threatened to behead Hurriyat leaders at Lal Chowk in Srinagar.

A resident of the Noorpora area of Awantipora, Moosa, 23, was studying at the Ram Dev Jindal College in Chandigarh. During a vacation home, he was charged with stone-pelting by the Jammu and Kashmir Police. He was hiding in Jammu when, after persuasion by the police of going lenient against him, his father, Abdul Rashid Bhat, an assistant engineer, made him to appear in a police station.

"Instead, they filled cases against him and threw him in jail for several days until a court granted him bail,” his father had said in an interview with Firstpost, adding, "The humiliating experience I went through had an impact on his life. Before he left home, he would join me in the mosque. It was an unusual development."

Moosa was attending court cases when, in July 2013, he disappeared, leaving a note behind telling his parents not to look for him. The young boy whose passion was once Yamaha motorcycle is now a category A++ militant. Moosa, however, has fallen out with the separatist leadership after he recently threatened them and said that militancy should not aim to create a new nation of Kashmir but for the supremacy of Islam.

Police officials say he was introduced to Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen by a militant named Idrees Ahmad Shah, who was killed in an encounter in 2015. Moosa rose in Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen ranks after Wani was killed in July 2016. According to security agencies, Moosa is active in the Pulwama-Tral belt but was seen last year in Srinagar as well.

Abu Dujana alias Hafiz

Abu Dujana alias Hafiz. Indian Army

Abu Dujana alias Hafiz. Indian Army

Kashmiri is the most difficult language to learn for an outsider but in the five years that he has been operating in Kashmir, Pakistani national Abu Dujana alias Hafiz is fluent in speaking the language and understands it well. Currently overseeing Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operation as its Chief Operations Commander, Dujana carries over Rs 15 lakh bounty on his head.

Dujana is believed to be in the early twenties, is categorised as A++ militant and was the mastermind of Pampore terror attack that killed eight CRPF men. "We are not even sure if Dujana is his real name. There are myths and folklore surrounding him and he is perhaps the most secretive militant operating in the Valley,” a police official said. Security forces once spotted Dujana among a group of labourers waiting to get hired in the main town of Pulwama. The moment they arrived to apprehend him, he fled the spot.

In the last five years, Dujana has carried out attacks that have left more than 17 security personnel dead, including two Indian Army officers of the Parachute Regiment’s special forces battalion and injured 48. He replaced LeT operational Commander and Udhampur attack mastermind, Abu Qasim, who was killed by security forces in October 2015.

During the funeral procession of Burhan Wani in August 2016, Dujana appeared at the rally and was carried on shoulders as he led the anti-India sloganeering in chaste Kashmir. “It was surprising,” a former Inspector General of Police, told Firstpost recently. “He even knows the lanes and the by lanes of the places where he operates.”

Perhaps that could be the reason why Dujana has given a slip to forces more than dozen times in the recent years, the most recent one being on 24 May — the second time in a week — when he broke a cordon laid down by security forces and escaped to safety in Hakripora village of south Kashmir's Pulwama district.

Dujana is believed to be from Gilgit-Baltistan and has been operating in south Kashmir. According to security forces, Dujana is the most popular foreign militant in south Kashmir and has survived at least three close encounters.

Altaf Ahmad Dar alias Kachroo

Altaf Dar alias Kachroo. Indian Army

Altaf Dar alias Kachroo. Indian Army

A resident of Havora area of Qoimoh in Kulgam district of south Kashmir, Altaf Ahmed Dar alias Kachroo was arrested in August 2007 after a brief encounter with the security forces. He was living a normal life after being released from the custody but got active in November 2012. "He is called encounter breaker. I have lost count of the number of times he managed to flee from encounter sites, including once in Frisal,” a police officer from Kulgam said, adding, "That earned him notoriety among his peers."

Dar is from a Jama'at-e-Islami family who have long been ardent supporters of armed militancy in the Valley. One of the Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen’s top wanted militants in south Kashmir, Dar was trapped many times by security forces but he managed to flee. He was in the second year of college studying arts when he joined militancy.

According to police, Dar was working as an over ground worker (OGW) for Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen for a long time and was arrested before he joined the group formally. But according to family members, the police used to continuously call him and harass him. After his release in 2014 following his detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA), he got "recycled" into militancy. Dar operates between Kulgam and Anantnag and is categorized as A++ militant.

"He is the so called district commander of Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen, and whatever that happens in the Kulgam district is done on his directions. There are dozens of cases registered against him," Kulgam SSP, Shridhar Patil, told Firstpost.

Bashir Ahmad Wani alias Lashkar

Bashir Ahmad Wani alias Lashkar. Indian Army

Bashir Wani alias Lashkar. Indian Army

A resident of Sopshali area of Kokernag, Bashir Ahmad Wani alias Lashkar is a category A++ militant and district commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for Anantnag. He has been in and out of militancy for 18 years, and was the first one to join the new age militancy from Kokernag area. Although he had a history of being either an OWG or a sympathiser of militant groups, according to security agencies, he was last recruited by LeT on 2 October 2015.

Bashir Ahmad Wani studied till Class IX and was first recruited in 1999 when insurgency had largely ebbed in the state. At that time, Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen was almost missing from the Valley but LeT had dozens of militants in south Kashmir. In 2002, Achabal police arrested him in Anantnag for possession of arms. He was later released in 2005 after being granted bail.

In 2009, he again became active and was arrested in 2010 in Bijbehra with arms and ammunition. He was again released in 2014. During that time, the security forces kept a close eye on his activities and he was continuously asked to appear at police stations. In October 2015, he joined LeT and is now the group's district commander for Anantnag.

Wasim Ahmad Shah alias Osama

Wasim Ahmad Shah alias Osama. Indian Army

Wasim Ahmad Shah alias Osama. Indian Army

A left arm fast bowler who would do anything to play cricket, Wasim Ahmad Shah alias Osama belongs to a well-off family in Tangpora Mohalla of Hef-Shirmal in Shopian district. An A++ category militant, Wasim Ahmad Shah became active on 28 March 2014 and is is the district commander of LeT for Shopian. His father Ghulam Mohammad Shah is a successful fruit businessman and believes that the regular harassment by security forces forced him to join militancy.

Wasim Ahmad Shah used to run a grocery store in his village before joining Burhan Wani but later switched to LeT, and was seen in many pictures of new age militants that went viral on social networking sites. "He loved cricket," a friend told Firstpost on Sunday in Tangpora Mohalla in Shopian which is a border village between Pulwama and Shopian districts.

Security officials say Wasim Ahmad Shah was working for a long time as an over ground worker for the militants. He was studying in Degree College Pulwama when he became an active militant. He was trapped many times by the security forces but managed to escape. Family members and friends say he faced repeated harassment by police for knowing the people who joined militancy and killed in encounters.

Tangpora Mohalla has five militants presently in the ranks of different militant outfits and Kashmir’s oldest militant is also from this village. Family members say that before Wasim Ahmad Shah left to join militancy, he had become suddenly inclined towards religion and looked like a "pious man", friends recall.

"If he was told that there is a cricket match in Jammu, he would sell anything to be at that game. His becoming militant surprised many but it had also to do with the continued harassment he faced at the hands of the police," a friend told Firstpost on Sunday.


Published Date: Jun 05, 2017 05:17 pm | Updated Date: Jun 05, 2017 05:17 pm

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