India

Kashmir conflict: Top militant Sabzar Bhat killed, police say

Sabzar Bhat (file picture)
Image caption Sabzar Bhat is reported to have been killed after police raided his hideout

A leading commander with the banned Hizbul Mujahideen militant group in Indian-administered Kashmir has been shot dead along with other suspected militants, the security forces say.

They say that Sabzar Bhat was killed when police raided a hideout.

His death will be regarded as a triumph by the Indian security forces but has already led to a wave of protests.

The security forces used tear gas and fired in the air to try to disperse stone-throwing crowds.

Police told the BBC that two other militants were killed with Bhat in a gun battle that raged throughout Friday night.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Indian army frequently launches anti-militant operations in Kashmir
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Clashes between stone-throwing crowds and the security forces are commonplace in Indian-administered Kashmir

Six other militants, described by officials as foreign, were killed in a separate incident near the Line of Control, the de-facto border between India and Pakistan in the disputed territory.

Clashes between militants and the security forces have continued into Saturday.

Many shops and businesses have closed and thousands of people are reported to be heading to Bhat's home village in the Tral area of Kashmir, about 30 miles (48km) south of Srinagar, to attend his funeral.

News of his death has also triggered a spontaneous strike across the valley with officials likely to restrict mobile phone and internet access as a precautionary security measure, the BBC's Riyaz Masroor in Srinagar reports.

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Bhat became one of the leaders of Hizbul Mujahideen while serving as an aide to top militant Burhan Wani - who was killed in July 2016.

His death plunged Indian-administered Kashmir into one of the worst episodes of violence in recent years.

The security forces are struggling to prevent a repeat of that this weekend, official sources said.

The group is mostly active in south Kashmir and its paramount leader, Zakir Musa Bhat, is an engineering graduate from a wealthy family in the Tral area.

Hizbul Mujahideen is one of the Kashmir region's largest rebel groups and is believed to favour all of Kashmir being part of Pakistan.

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