SRINAGAR: In a major jolt to militancy in Kashmir, security forces on Saturday killed top commander of Lashkar-e-Toiba Bashir Lashkari, who was mastermind of June 16 attack on police vehicle in which five policemen and SHO were killed, and his associate in a gunfight in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir.
A 44-year-old woman was killed in the cross fire while 21-year-old youth died in security forces firing on protestors during clashes near the encounter site.
“Top Lashkar militant Bashir Lashkari and a Pakistani militant Abu Maaz were killed in an 8-hour long encounter with security forces at Brenti-Batpora village in Dialgam area of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district today,” J&K Director General of Police, S P Vaid told New Indian Express.
He said Lashkari was top LeT commander and was the mastermind of June 16 attack on police vehicle in Achabal area of Anantnag district in which five policemen and Station House Officer (SHO) Feroz Ahmed were killed.
The DGP said 17 civilians, who were used as human shield by militants, were rescued from the houses by the security personnel before launching final assault on the militants.
Lashkari was categorized A++ militant and carried a bounty of Rs 12 lakhs.
A CRPF officer, part of the operation, said police, army and CRPF men launched joint combing and search operation in Dialgam area early this morning after receiving specific information about presence of Lashkari and his associates in the area.
He said after sealing all the exit and escape routes, the security personnel zeroed-in on two residential houses, where the militants were hiding.
Some civilians were also present in the houses
“The militants started firing towards the security personnel after finding themselves trapped. The fire was returned by troops and a 44-year-old woman Tahira Begum was killed after being caught in the cross firing,” a police official said.
After the initial gunfight, he said, security force made announcements and called on civilians trapped in the houses to come out.
The official said 17 civilians holed-up in the houses were rescued.
As the operation was on, locals, especially the youth, took to roads and attempted to march towards the encounter site to pave way for militants to escape.
Chanting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, the protestors pelted stones on the security personnel, who resorted to tear gas shelling and fired towards the mob to disperse them. Six people sustained injuries and some of them were hit by bullets.
A 21-year-old youth identified as Shadab Ahmad Chopan sustained bullet injuries in face and was evacuated to a Srinagar hospital, where doctors declared him brought dead.
After the civilian killings and protests, security forces tightened the siege to prevent militants from escaping.
“The troops engaged both militants in the gunfight. They fired explosive material towards the houses, where from militants were firing on them. It caused loud explosions and extensively damaged the houses,” sources said.
They said Lashkari and his associate were killed in the eight-hour long gunfight.
The State police chief S P Vaid termed Lashkari’s killing as a major jolt to LeT and militancy.
He said Lashkari was a wanted militant and a massive manhunt was launched for him after his involvement in killing of five policemen and SHO in militants attack at Achabal area on June 16.
He said concerted effort were made by security forces to corner Lashkari and finally he was trapped and killed today.
On stone pelting near encounter site, he said enemies of peace instigate people to reach the encounter site and create law and order problem.
“Whatsapp groups are activated and audios are sent from the mischievous elements to instigate youth to reach the encounter site during the encounters,” he added.
Hundreds of people marched towards Sopshali village in Kokernag area in Anantnag district, where from slain LeT commander Bashir Lashkari hailed, to attend his funeral prayers.
The body of Lashkari was not handed over to his family members till filing of this report.
“The body will be handed to family members by the evening after completion of all legal formalities,” DGP said
Meanwhile, separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik have called for shutdown tomorrow against killing of two civilians and two LeT militants during encounter at Dialgam.