J&K Encounter Amid Lockdown: Al-Qaeda-Linked ‘AGH’ Chief Killed

J&K Police & security forces confirmed the killing of “three unidentified militants” in Shopian on 29 April.

Updated
India
3 min read
File photo of an encounter between armed forces personnel and terrorists in Kashmir. 
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Chief of the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Ghazwatul Hind (AGH), Burhan Koka, is believed to be among the three militants killed in an overnight gunfight in southern Kashmir on Wednesday, 29 April.

Officers in the Jammu and Kashmir Police and security forces confirmed death of “three unidentified militants” in an encounter at Melhora village in Shopian district, 50 kilometres from Srinagar. They also said that one Army Major and two civilians, including a woman from the family of one militant, were injured during the encounter. They, however, remained tight-lipped about identification and the group affiliation of the three militants.

‘Militants Are Kashmiris With No Major Guerrilla Training’

Rajesh Kalia, spokesperson at headquarters 15 Corps in Srinagar, told The Quint that three terrorists had been killed and the operation was in progress. However, well-placed sources in the Jammu and Kashmir Police, who are not authorised to speak to media, said that all three militants had been killed and the operation was over. They said that three soldiers, including one Major, sustained injuries and were rushed to a military hospital. A woman from Koka’s family sustained a gunshot wound in her leg. She was rushed to the Bone and Joint Hospital, and subsequently referred to SMHS Hospital in Srinagar. One person, who sustained pellet injuries, was also rushed to SMHS Hospital.

Knowledgeable sources said that police and security forces, on Tuesday, 28 April evening, launched a cordon-and-search operation at Melhora, in the militant-infested Zainapora belt, after receiving information that AGH chief Burhan Koka was present in his village along with at least two armed associates.

Troops laid a tight siege to the village and engaged the holed-up militants in a nightlong gunfight that continued till 11 AM on Wednesday, 29 April. “It was an unusually fierce resistance from the terrorists. Some of us speculated that he could be a well-trained terrorist from Pakistan or Afghanistan. But we were sure all three are Kashmiris with no major guerrilla training,” said an official.

J&K Police Won’t Hand Over Bodies of Slain Militants to Kin

Residents identified the three militants killed in the encounter as Burhan Majid Koka of Melhora, and Nasir of Arwani and Omar of Pulwama. They said that Koka’s family members had been taken to Zainapora Police Station for identification.

People believed to be operating social media on behalf of militants posted messages overnight, indicating that Koka had been killed. One such Twitter handle posted at 10:40 PM on 28 April: “From Burhan Wani to Burhan Koka, blood of Kashmiri mujahideen will never go waste. India will have to pay back one day”. It carried photographs of Wani and Koka.

J&K Police have, of late, decided that bodies of no militants or civilians in an encounter would be handed over to the families for funeral rites at local graveyards.

Because of this policy shift, officials avoid identifying the slain militants or revealing their ranks publicly. All such bodies are now buried at two places in uninhabited areas in Sonmarg and Baramulla. These decisions have been taken for the first time in the last 30 years, to ensure that there are no ceremonial last rites, gun salutes by militants, or crowded funeral processions.

16 Militants Killed Over Two Weeks in South Kashmir

Al-Qaeda’s ‘Global Islamic Media Front’ had announced the formation of Ansar Ghazwatul Hind in July 2017, and appointment the Hizbul Mujahideen rebel Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Zakir Musa as its chief in Kashmir. Close associate and successors of Burhan Wani, also from Tral, Musa, had resigned from Hizbul Mujahideen after he developed differences with the organisation, warned separatist Hurriyat leaders against “political exploitation” of the Kashmir conflict, and threatened to ‘sever and hang their heads’ at Lalchowk, Srinagar. Months later, Al-Qaeda’s media front declared him as the first chief of AGH in Kashmir.

Police and security forces killed Zakir Musa in an encounter in Tral area on 24 May 2019. Subsequently, on 7 June 2019, Hamid Lelhari was declared as the new AGH chief in Kashmir. Police and security forces killed Lelhari in another encounter on 22 October 2019. Later, Burhan Koka was appointed as his successor in AGH.

Amid a chain of encounters in southern Kashmir in April, police and security forces killed four of Koka’s militants at the same village, Melhora, in Shopian on 22 April 2020.

With the killing of three militants on Wednesday, 29 April, as many as 16 militants and two of their alleged associates have been killed in seven encounters in South Kashmir’s Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama districts in the last 13 days.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. )

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