After Abu Dujana, Zakir Musa only prominent militant leader left in Kashmir, matter of time before army gets him

Abu Dujana was the second most famous militant commander in the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind group — a breakaway faction of Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba — whose formation was recently announced by Al-Qaeda.

His killing leaves Zakir Musa as the only prominent face of the group.

The death of Dujana and his associate Arif Lilhari is the first big blow to the Musa-led group, which has more than a dozen militants — directly or indirectly — under its command, and which draws its recruits from Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Dujana, 27, headed the operational wing of the LeT for more than five years before he switched sides and joined Musa’s group.

“Most of the reports mistakenly identified Dujana as an LeT operative, which is not true. In fact he had left the organisation long ago, over the issue of money and the relocation of his wife to Pakistan,” a top army commander in south Kashmir told Firstpost on Tuesday evening.

Last week, Global Islamic Media Front, an online propaganda platform of Al Qaeda, announced Musa, a former Hizbul Mujahideen militant, as commander of its group for Jammu and Kashmir.

The announcement gave Musa's outfit — which is attempting to attract cadres from the other groups in five districts of south Kashmir — a much-needed boost. The Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind group has been unable to carry out any attack and is limited to an online presence.

Jammu and Kashmir director general of police SP Vaid told Firstpost recently that Musa’s group comprised less than two dozen militants and operatives. If his analysis is accurate, it shows that Musa has utterly failed to recruit from other terror outfits. The flow of weapons from Pakistan have also slowed to a trickle.

On Tuesday morning, Dujana and Lilhari, both known operatives of the Musa group, were killed in a fierce gunfight with security forces in south Kashmir's Pulwama district. The forces launched an operation around 4:30 am after receiving information that militants were hiding in the neighbourhood.

 After Abu Dujana, Zakir Musa only prominent militant leader left in Kashmir, matter of time before army gets him

Security forces during the Pulwama encounter. Shah Hilal

On Tuesday, a civilian identified as Firdous Ahmad Khan was hit by a stray bullet, while 40 others were wounded when security forces clashed with civilians near the encounter site. Another civilian, identified as Akeel Ahmad Bhat, a resident of Gabarpora Hawl, took a bullet in his abdomen and succumbed to his injuries on Wednesday morning.

The protests that rocked south Kashmir on Tuesday showed the popularity of Dujana, a terrorist from the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Few militants enjoyed such notoriety as Dujana, reportedly known as Kashmir's "slippery commander." According to reports, Dujana was an expert on hoodwinking armed forces and gave them the slip on at least six occasions, including on 19 July.

Dujana was replaced by Pakistani national Abu Ismail in the LeT weeks ago. Ismail has emerged as the mastermind of the attack on the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims, which resulted in seven deaths.

But behind this militant on militant battle in south Kashmir lies another reality: That of a growing rift between the groups loyal to Hizbul and the new Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind group. “This rift plays an important role in our counter-insurgency operations. If nothing else, they will soon be informing us about each other's locations," the army commander says.

The Hurriyat Conference and Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin recently warned “defeatist elements,” who want to “launch Islamic State-like organisations in Jammu and Kashmir."

“Some of our people, playing into the hands of our enemy, are trying to disrupt unity between people and the leadership and are trying to harm (our movement). We want to make it clear to them that they will not gain anything,” Salahuddin said in a video massage after the Ghazwat-ul-Hind issued a statement naming Musa as its leader.

In the past five years, Dujana carried out several attacks which left more than 17 security personnel dead, including two army officers of the Parachute Regiment’s Special Forces Battalion, and injured 48. He replaced LeT commander and Udhampur attack mastermind Abu Qasim, who was killed by security forces in October 2015.

After Burhan Wani and Sabzar Bhat, Dujana is the third top militant leader killed in Kashmir since 2016. Interestingly, intelligence agencies aren't sure if Dujana was even his real name. Dujana's death leaves Musa — who has been criticised by both Hurriyat and militant leadership across the Line of Control (LoC), but is well known among the south Kashmiri youth — as a lone wolf figure.

A militant from Kulgam district who was killed in an encounter recently, spoke to Musa before his death and told him that all the "brothers" from his group would soon be joining Musa for "the battle for Caliphate."

If Dujana's death symbolises something, it is that it is only a matter of time before security forces eliminate Musa, who shot to popularity after snubbing Hurriyat and indulging in a war of words with militant leadership across the LoC.

The countdown has already begun.

Editor's note: In earlier copies, we have identified Abu Dujana as the chief of LeT in Kashmir. However, as clarified by the security establishment during the time of his death Dujana was part of the Zakir Musa headed Al Qaeda in Jammu and Kashmir.

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Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 06:31:07 IST