SRINAGAR: One of Kashmir’s most-wanted terrorists, Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo, was on Wednesday killed along with an aide in a five-hour gun battle with security forces at his native Baighpora in Pulwama district, bringing the curtain down on an eight-year run that saw him go from a mathematics teacher to a terror mastermind with a Rs 12-lakh bounty on his head.
As news of Naikoo’s death spread, the Union Territory administration again suspended mobile internet across the Valley and voice communication over all networks barring that of BSNL. Incidents of stone-pelting at security forces was reported in parts of south Kashmir and downtown Srinagar.
Naikoo and his aide, identified as Adil, were eliminated within hours of security forces killing two Lashkar-e-Taiba men in a separate operation at a nearby village, capping a relentless offensive against terror outfits since the May 3 Handwara encounter in which eight security personnel, including two Army officers – Colonel Ashutosh Sharma and Major Anuj Sood – were killed in action.
Known for doing a Houdini act every time security forces cornered him, Naikoo had been holed up in a concrete hideout at Baighpora since Tuesday night, when a joint team of the Army’s 50 Rashtriya Rifles, CRPF’s 185 Bn and police started an operation to flush out the two Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists from Shaar Shali village of Khrew, also in Pulwama district.
A senior official of J&K Police said there was a tip-off about Naikoo visiting Baighpora, less than 10km from Khrew, to see his ailing mother Zeba even as security forces were engaged in an encounter with the Lashkar terrorists.
“Around 3am on Wednesday, a separate team of J&K Police, the Army’s 55 Rashtriya Rifles and CRPF reached Baighpora and was immediately greeted with a volley of gunfire. After a five-hour exchange of fire, Naikoo was shot dead. His aide ran into a concrete bunker that was later destroyed with explosives,” a police official said.
IGP (Kashmir range) Vijay Kumar formally announced that Naikoo was among four terrorists killed in two encounters since Tuesday night.
As Hizbul Mujahideen’s longest serving operational commander in Kashmir, Naikoo, who used the alias Mohammad Bin Qasim, was notorious for his methods, which included targeting police personnel’s families and regularly extorting orchard owners in south Kashmir.
Although Naikoo joined the outfit only in 2012, his rise up the ranks was apparently meteoric. Known to be close to Burhan Wani, who used to be Hizbul Mujahideen’s poster boy till his death in an encounter in 2016, Naikoo stepped in to fill the void after Burhan’s immediate successor, Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Zakir Musa, was expelled from the outfit.
“Naikoo figured in a list of 12 most-wanted militants drawn up by the Army in 2017. He was also part of a hit list of 17 top militants issued by intelligence agencies in 2018. Being an A++ category militant, he carried a reward of Rs 12 lakh on his head,” the police said.