Troops killed four militants in gun battles in Kashmir on Wednesday, including the commander of the biggest separatist group fighting New Delhi in the disputed Himalayan region, a police official said.
Hundreds of Indian soldiers launched an operation late on Tuesday after receiving intelligence that Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo was hiding in a village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
Authorities also disabled mobile internet across the Kashmir region early on Wednesday to forestall large crowds from gathering in the streets to mourn his killing.
“He was trapped in a house and early today a gun battle took place during which he and his associate were killed,” Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police, Vijay Kumar, told Reuters.
Two militants were killed in another gun battle nearby on Wednesday, Kumar added.
For decades, separatists have waged an armed conflict against Indian rule in Kashmir, with the majority of them wanting independence for the Himalayan region, or to join New Delhi’s arch rival Pakistan.
Kashmir is claimed in whole but ruled in part by both India and Pakistan.
Naikoo, 35, had joined the militants in 2010, two years after around 100 people were killed by troops during a restive summer marked by protests and violence.
A former maths teacher with a bounty of Rs 1.2 million ($15,800) on his head, Naikoo was an aide to Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani who was killed in July 2016, leading to months of unrest.
“It is a major success for the troops in Kashmir”, Kumar said.
Amid a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Indian troops have intensified operations in Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state that was split into two centrally-administered territories last August.
Since late March, Indian forces have killed 36 militants, losing around 20 soldiers, including a high-ranking army officer, during the same period, according to official data.