SRINAGAR, Aug 14 : In a huge blow to Hizbul Mujahideen, its operational commander Yasin Itoo alias ‘Ghaznavi’ was killed with two of his cohorts in an encounter in Kashmir’s Shopian district on Sunday.
Kashmir range IGP Muneer Khan confirmed the killing of Yasin, who had succeeded Zakir Musa after the latter was expelled by Syed Salahuddin, the supreme commander of the terror outfit, for claiming allegiance to al-Qaida.
Musa had succeeded Burhan Wani after his encounter killing in July 2016. After Musa’s “expulsion”, Sabzar Bhatt briefly led the Hizbul pack until his killing, after which Yasin became the operational commander.
Riyaz Naikoo is believed to be the other top Hizb commander.Yasin was killed as the encounter, that began on Saturday, entered the second day at Awneera village in Shopian. Two security personnel were killed late on Saturday.
Firing began when security forces launched an operation against terrorists who had gathered in the village. While some terrorists escaped, three including Yasin were holed-up in a house next to a mosque. They were eventually killed by security forces and arms and ammunition recovered from the encounter site.
Jailed former top militant Qasim Faktoo, undergoing a life sentence for murder of human rights activist HN Wanchoo, issued a statement from prison terming Yasin’s killing as a huge loss to the “movement”.
Yasin, a resident of Chadoora in Budgam district, had joined militancy in 1997 after crossing over to Pakistan occupied Kashmir for arms training. The two other slain terrorists were identified as Umer Majeed Mir of Kulgam and Irfan-ul-Haq of Maldara Zainapora. Both were involved in several attacks on security forces in the past, police said.
Five injured soldiers, including an officer, were admitted to the military hospital at Badamibagh in Srinagar on Saturday where two of them succumbed to their injuries, police said.
Gawai Sumedh Waman and Ilayaraja P, both 25, lost their lives during the operation while three others were injured, DGP SP Vaid said.
“Acting on specific information, Shopian police, along with CRPF, launched a cordon and search operation at Awneera village in Shopian. During the operation, militants hiding in the area fired upon the joint search party. The fire was retaliated, ensuing an encounter,” police
Around a dozen stone-pelters were also injured after security forces had to resort to firing pellets after tear gas shells failed to deter them, said a doctor at a hospital.
A ceremony was held at the military base at Badamibagh on Sunday to pay tributes to the slain soldiers. Representatives and officials of the state government and security agencies also paid their last respects to the martyrs, said a defence spokesman. Telecom authorities blocked mobile internet services in Budgam district.