SRINAGAR: A day after its operational commander Mohammad Yaseen Yatoo alias Mehmood Gaznavi was killed in an encounter with security forces, militant group Hizbul Mujahideen on Monday named Mohammad Bin Qasim as its new operational chief commander in Kashmir.
“Hizb command council met under the chairmanship of Syed Salah-ud-Din at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) today and named Mohammad Bin Qasim as new operational chief commander in Kashmir,” Hizb spokesman Saleem Hashmi said in an emailed statement.
Mohammad Bin Qasim was named as Hizb operational chief after his predecessor Mohammad Yaseen Yatoo along with two of his associates was killed in an 18-hour-long gunfight with security forces at Awnira, Zainapora village in south Kashmir’s Shopian district yesterday. Two soldiers were also killed and three others injured in the gunfight.
Police sources said Mohammad Bin Qasim could be the code name of Riyaz Naikoo, who is the top commander of Hizb and was also a close aide of Burhan Wani.
27-year-old Naik also figured in the “hit list” of 12 wanted militants issued by the army in June this year. Of the 12 wanted militants, four have been killed in over two months after the list was released by the army.
Naikoo, who had joined militancy in 2012, had released many video messages and also attended funeral prayers of some slain militants in south Kashmir.
Yatoo, 41, hailing from Chadoora area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district was the longest surviving militant in the Valley. He had joined militancy in 1996 when he was a second-year graduate student.
He was arrested many times but after his release, he again used to join militancy. In 2015, he joined Hizb again and was appointed as operational commander of the outfit after some time.
Yatoo, who had addressed a public rally in Redwani area of south Kashmir’s Kulgam district on August 14 last year and praised Pakistan, was laid to rest at his native village in Chadoora today amidst chanting of pro-freedom, pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans.
Thousands of people braving rains attended his funeral prayer.
Police has termed Yatoo’s killing as a major jolt to Hizbul Mujahideen and a major achievement for the security forces.
“He was brain behind some attacks carried by Hizb militants in the Valley. Besides, he was also luring youth to militancy and his killing is a severe jolt to Hizb,” a police official said.
Earlier in May this year, security forces had killed Burhan Wani’s successor Sabzar Bhat in an encounter in Tral area of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
After Burhan’s killing in an encounter with security forces on July 8 last year, Hizb had named Zakir Musa as its new commander in the Valley. But after he talked of an Islamic caliphate and threatened Hurriyat leaders, Hizb disassociated itself from him and appointed Sabzar, who was a close associate of Burhan, as its Kashmir chief.