SRINAGAR: Riyaz Naikoo alias Zubair is likely to take over as the Kashmir chief of militant group Hizbul Mujahideen after the killing of Sabzar Bhat.
29-year-old Naikoo — educated and tech savvy—is a resident of Awantipora in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. He had joined militancy in December 2012 and belonged to the core group of slain Burhan Wani.
Unlike Wani, who was more visible on social media, Naikoo has released only few videos so far.
He was also close to Wani’s successor Sabzar Bhat and another top Hizb commander Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Zakir Moosa, who recently quit Hizbul Mujahideen after pledging to fight for the establishment of Islamic caliphate in the State.
Bhat had taken over as Hizb chief after killing of his predecessor and Kashmir militancy’s poster boy Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces on July 8, last year. Wani’s killing had triggered over a five-month-long unrest in the Valley during which 92 civilians were killed and over 13,000 were injured in security forces firing.
Sources said another contender for the top Hizb post is Saddam Paddar, who was also a close aide of Wani and is the only surviving militant of a group of 11, whose picture had gone viral on social media few years back.
Nine militants seen in the group have been killed while one Tariq Pandit surrendered before security forces last year.
Sources said Paddar, who joined militancy in September 2015, along with Naikoo and Zakir, is the most wanted militant and security forces had launched massive search operations in over two dozen villages of south Kashmir’s Shopian district twice last month to track him down.
However, he had managed to evade the security forces during both the operations, they said.
According to sources, Hizb leadership is likely to choose Naikoo as he is educated and tech-savvy. He is considered to be a moderate as few months back he had released a video in which he had appealed Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley, they said.
Both Naikoo and Paddar are are rated as A++ militants and carry Rs 10 lakh bounty.