Indian forces kill top Kashmiri rebel leader

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SRINAGAR: Indian government forces shot dead the leader of held Kashmir’s largest militant group on Sunday, authorities said.

Hizbul Mujahideen leader Saifullah Mir — also known as Musaib and Doctor Saif, as he treated militants injured in encounters with Indian forces — was killed in a gunbattle in the Rangreth area of Srinagar near the main airport, police said.

One of his associates was captured alive, they added.

Anti-India groups have been fighting for decades for held Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan, and enjoy broad popular support.

The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, since 1989.

“The militant killed in the gunfight is Hizbul Mujahideen’s chief operational commander Dr Saifullah,” Vijay Kumar, inspector general of police in held Kashmir, told reporters at the site of the encounter.

“It’s really a very big achievement.” Mir replaced former Hizbul Mujahideen chief Riyaz Naikoo, who was killed by government forces in the southern Kashmir valley during a two-day gunbattle in May.

Mir, 31, who was mostly active in Kashmir’s southern districts of Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian, studied biology and worked as a technician before joining Hizbul Mujahideen in 2014, officials said. The killing takes the number of militants killed in the Muslim-majority region so far this year by Indian troops to 190, police official Vijay Kumar said. Last week, three young BJP workers were shot dead by militants in southern Kashmir.

Vijay Kumar said police and paramilitary soldiers launched an operation on Sunday in Srinagar in a neighbourhood in the city’s outskirts based on a tip that Saifullah was sheltering there. He said a gunfight ensued in which the militant commander was killed and his suspected associate was nabbed.

Kumar claimed the killing was a major victory for India’s military operations.