Srinagar: Burhan Wani's successor Sabzar Ahmad Bhat fled from the encounter site at Tral in South Kashmir on Sunday taking the cover of the darkness and heavy stone-pelting in the area, top police officials said.
The top Hizbul Mujahideen commander took over as the operational chief of the militant organisation in Kashmir after Burhan's death in July.
Sources said that the police had specific information about Sabzar's presence in the area, but he managed to flee from the spot. After the encounter concluded on Sunday morning, local people resorted to heavy stone-pelting. They also snatched the weapon of one of the CRPF personnel near the Tral bus stand that lies in close vicinity of the house of Burhan.
Director General of police, SP Vaid, said that two militants have been killed in the operation that lasted through the night. He identified one of the militants as Aquib Moulvi, a resident of Tral and another one as a Pakistani militant.
Vaid said that Aquib was an A++ category militant and the security forces were looking for him for a long time. He reiterated that the forces had specific information about Sabzar's presence in the area while describing the killing of Aquib as a major achievement for the security forces. “Aquib was very important for us. It is a big achievement for the police. He is a local militant whereas Osama is from Pakistan. Aquib was involved in many militancy incidents." About the Pakistani militant, a police official said that they are mostly identified by their code names as the exact identities can’t be ascertained.
"The house in which the militants remained holed in was their hideout," Vaid said adding that the police has arrested the house owner as well.
One police official died during the operation while some security personnel including an Indian Army major were injured. "One of our police constables received a bullet injury in the leg whereas an army major was hit in the jaw," Vaid said, adding that the forces, however, maintained a maximum restraint to avoid civilian causalities.
There are reports that the local people continued with the protests even after the incident, and security has been beefed up around the area following the encounter. A senior police official said that Sabzar, who was accompanied by some other militants managed to escape. "The security force personnel had encircled many of the houses, but Sabzar and other militants were holed in some other house," a top official said.
A local police official in Tral said that Aquib is from the Hayna village of restive Tral area and has been associated with Hizbul Mujahideen for over three years. He joined militancy in 2012 at the age of 20 and was a close associate of Burhan.
Vaid said that Aquib was wanted in many cases and has been on the run for a long time. According to sources Aquib was from a poor family and had been active in South Kashmir area. The encounter was carried out on a tip-off by both the Indian Army and local police at Nazneenpur, Hafoo area of Tral, and lies only few kilometres from the local police station.
Police officials said that there are many militants who remain active in Tral area as the adjoining forests provide cover as well as training ground for them. Some of the militants including Sabzar, who have snatched rifles from the forces, have been locally trained in the forest areas. During the height of pro-freedom protests in Kashmir, Tral had remained virtually out of bounds for the forces as not a single security force personnel was spotted near the house of the Burhan or the adjoining graveyard where his funeral was held.
Police officials said that though the operation in Tral was over, search will continue to trace out Sabzar and his associates. "We have started a manhunt for Sabzar and his other associates in the area," a senior police official said.
Sabzar, who also comes from the Tral area, was closely associated with Burhan. Local sources said that like Sabzar many other militants have also been visiting their family members. According to sources, Burhan visited his family members many times before he was killed in an encounter in 2016 at Kokernag area of South Kashmir. His death triggered fierce protests across Kashmir resulting into the loss of over 70 lives.
Updated Date: Mar 05, 2017 20:07 PM