SRINAGAR: Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) chief Saif-Ul-Islam Mir was killed in an encounter on the outskirts of the city on Sunday, police said, describing it as a huge success for the security forces.
Mir, 31, also known as Dr Saifullah and Ghazi Haider, had taken command of the outfit after the killing of his predecessor Riyaz Naikoo in May this year.
He was one of the most wanted militants in the Kashmir Valley and involved in several attacks on the security forces, an official said.
A police spokesman said security forces launched a cordon and search operation in the Rangreth area on the outskirts of the city after receiving specific input about the presence of militants there.
During the search operation, as the presence of a militant was ascertained, he was given the opportunity to surrender, but he refused and fired indiscriminately upon the forces, the spokesman said.
The fire was retaliated leading to an encounter in which the militant was killed and his body was retrieved from the site of the encounter, he said.
The slain militant was identified as Saif-Ul-Islam Mir alias Dr Saifullah alias Ghazi Haider, a resident of Malangpora area of Pulwama in south Kashmir, and affiliated with proscribed outfit HM, the spokesman added.
He said as per police records, Mir was the chief operational commander of Hizbul Mujahideen.
Addressing a press conference here, Director General of Police Dilbag Singh said Mir was active since October 2014 and was associated with slain HM commander Burhan Wani for a long time.
His killing is a huge success for the security forces, Singh added.
"We had a successful operation today in which a top commander (Saifullah), you can say he was the number one commander of the HM, was killed. Several families will heave a sigh a relief as he was involved in killing of many people. He was active since October 2014 and was associated with Burhan Wani for a long time," Singh said.
He said Mir was one of the dreaded militants even before taking command of the outfit.
"He had killed many innocent people including three policemen. He was behind the killing of two truck drivers immediately after the abrogation of Article 370. He attacked a Sarpanch in Kulgam recently but he survived the attack."
"He also had a hand in the killing of three BJP workers in Kulgam earlier this week. He is involved in over a dozen terror cases and has killed over half-a-dozen people. He was also involved in harming several people and destroying government property, as well as involved in several grenade attacks," the DGP said.
The police chief said the security agencies were tracking the HM commander's movement from south Kashmir towards Srinagar for the last two days.
"I congratulate the Anantnag police for tracking his movement. They then shared the input with the Srinagar police and an operation was launched to neutralise him," Singh said, adding Mir motivated dozens of youths to join the militant ranks.
The DGP said Mir's killing is a huge setback for HM as it has rendered the outfit leaderless.
"After the killing of Naikoo, the HM had become leaderless and now again the outfit is in a similar position. It is a huge setback for the militant outfit as a chief commander of an organisation, who planned all the operations and was running Pakistan's terror-machine here, has been killed," he said.
Singh said the security forces have killed over 200 militants this year so far.
"This includes about 190 militants in the Valley and the rest in the Jammu region," he added.
The DGP said the allegations that the bodies of militants killed in encounters in the valley were not handed over to their families were not true.
"The bodies of militants are given to their families only, but their burial does not take place at the local level (native place). What used to happen was that people used to gather in large numbers when the body was buried at the local level and militants attended the funerals."
"The militants would take advantage of the situation and try to emotionally blackmail the youth and motivate them to join militant ranks. Also, due to COVID-19, this was a way to discourage large gatherings (to avoid infections)," he said.
"The bodies are being properly buried in the presence of their families and the magistrates concerned, and the whole process is photographed and video-graphed and this process will continue for some more time because of the COVID-19," the DGP added.
Asked about the apprehensions that separatist elements may try to use the amendments to land laws to vitiate the atmosphere in the valley, the top cop said "people are cooperative and understand everything".
Earlier, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kashmir, Vijay Kumar told reporters near the encounter site that Mir's killing was a huge success for the police and security forces.
"This is not a small achievement," he said.
Asked whether any other militant was apprehended alive from the encounter site, he said a suspect has been taken into custody and is being questioned.