Security forces on Tuesday gunned down a militant, in South Kashmir’s Tral district, who is believed to have been the head of the module that was carrying out sniper attacks on forces in the Valley for the past 10 days.
The Pakistan-based militant was identified as Mohammad Usman. He was the nephew of Moulana Masood Azhar, the chief of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad. A senior security official deployed on ground described the killing of Azhar’s high-profile nephew as “the biggest success for the forces in this year.”
Usman was the son of Azhar’s elder brother Ibrahim, who was involved in the hijack of the IC-814 in 1999 to free the JeM chief. He is believed to have infiltrated the Valley less than a year ago and had laid low since, possibly to revive the terror outfit founded by his uncle.
However, for the past nearly two weeks, he became active by creating, what security agencies believe was a four-member sniper cell, two of who were also killed in the encounter on Tuesday.
Security agencies have, meanwhile, sounded a full alert in anticipation of reprisal attacks by Jaish. Usman’s younger brother Umer is also in the Valley since July, sources said.
Usman turned on his sniper cell around 10 days ago and since then was believed to have targeted and killed eight security force personnel in over a dozen attacks.
As Usman and his other militant colleagues took out security personnel one-by-one, they soon became the biggest security challenge in the Valley. The Inspector General of Police issued a review of the ‘snipers’ and of the security provided to the VVIPs.
Even the army chief issued a statement a statement saying that the force was looking into reports of snipers entering the Kashmir Valley to target defence personnel.
“This was the first time that the army chief also had to issue statements on the death of two of his jawans. It was a big security threat. The whole security setup was in a fix because we hadn’t met a challenge like this before. The snipers seemed to be trained and well equipped,” said a highly placed source.
Another official who was coordinating the operations against the JeM militants on ground, said, “My soldiers on the ground were telling me that this sniper was shooting with remarkable precision. As it happens in the last two days there has been no wind blowing in the Valley. So he could just aim and fire accurately. But we were prepared for him and did not give him a chance.”
The source added that the house in which the militants were hiding has been blown up and the process of recovery of weapons is still in process. While the weapon handled by Usman has still not been recovered, he is believed to have been firing from a NATO grade weapon which has a range of around 170 meters.
This weapon is expected to be sent to a ballistics laboratory to find more about the nature of the weapon and possibly the place from where it was procured.
A total of three militants were killed in the encounter of which two, apart from Usman, were locals. The gunfight ensued Chankitar village of Mandoora area of Tral on Tuesday afternoon, soon after a joint team of army’s 42RR, SOG and 180 BN CRPF launched a cordon and search operation following specific information about the presence of some militants there.
As the joint team of government forces intensified searches, the militants hiding in the area fired upon at government forces, triggering off an encounter. During the course of the gunfight, sources said, the house was razed to a rubble and massive searches launched.
Groups like Jaish-e-Muhammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen, Al Qaeda affiliate Ansar Ghazwat-ul Hind, and now Al Badr have become increasingly active in Kashmir after forces took out almost the entire cadre of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen in ‘Operation All Out’ last year.
Jaish is the terror group responsible for carrying out several high-profile fidayeen attacks like the one in Mumbai on 26/11.