In a major success for security forces, Hizbul Mujahideen operations chief Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo (35), one of the most wanted militants the Valley, was killed on Wednesday during a gunbattle with the Jammu & Kashmir Police (JKP) in his village of Beighpora in Awantipora in South Kashmir. His killing comes days after a series of strikes on security forces that has killed 18 security personnel, including a Colonel and Major in the last one month alone.
On Tuesday night, JKP, the Indian Army and paramilitary forces cordoned off Beighpora village upon receiving information about his presence there, searching for him through the night and finding him on Wednesday morning. Police sources said Naikoo and his associate opened fire from an attic that was covered with a false ceiling, after a police officer tapped on it, since he got suspicious upon seeing a new nail. Soon word spread that Naikoo had been trapped and people from Beighpora and adjoining villages rushed to help the militants escape but the police and paramilitary forces stopped them, leading to protests and clashes.
Naikoo was elevated in Hizb’s ranks after his predecessor, Zakir Rashid Bhat aka Zakir Musa had sworn allegiance to the Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) by forming the Ansar Ghazwatul Hind in 2017, and announced he wanted to establish an Islamic Caliphate. This pitted him against the separatist leadership.
The Hizbul Mujahideen therefore fielded Naikoo as it’s face with the clear instruction to keep it’s ranks intact since split seemed inevitable. Naikoo began uploading photographs of militant recruits on social media and introduced the practice of offering gun salutes to slain militants. He was behind numerous attacks in the Valley, including the killing of migrant workers and fruit traders, and the abduction of police personnel and their families.
Described as “calculative” and “careful” Naikoo never used a phone and always used the difficult to track Virtual Private Network (VPN) to communicate. He preferred a secure messaging platform called Bat Messenger, with a username Williamson which he also used on other communication platforms. But a few days ago, police began tracking a phone number which they suspected belonged to Naikoo, which they found unusual and later described him to have committed a mistake that confirmed their suspicion it was him.