Srinagar: Abdur Rehman alias Abu Qasim, a Pakistani militant who for his deadly pursuits in Jammu and Kashmir over the years rose to a top position in Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, one of the largest and most active terror organizations in South Asia, and carried a reward of Rs. 2 million on his head was killed in a fire fight with security forces in the State’s southern Kulgam district overnight.
Officials termed his killing as a ‘major success’ against the militants active in Jammu and Kashmir and said Abu Qasim, a resident of Bahawalpur, Multan, was involved in a number of militant activities during his 5-year stint as the Lashkar’s point man in Kashmir Valley and figured in the security forces’ list of most wanted militants. He came under renewed focus of security forces after investigations revealed that he was the mastermind of August 5 terror strike outside the garrison town of Udhampur in which two Border Security Force (BSF) jawans were killed and 12 other security personnel were injured.
One Lashkar militant Muhammad Noaman was also killed in the security forces’ retaliatory fire whereas another Pakistani cadre Muhammad Naveed Yakub was captured alive. Naveed and his two alleged local accomplices are currently in a Jammu jail. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is investigating the case.
Inspector General of Police (Kashmir range) S.J.M.Gillani said on Thursday that 28-year-old Abu Qasim was killed during an encounter with a joint party of Army, CRPF and the local police’s counterinsurgency Special Operations Group (SOG) in village Khandaypora of Kulgam. It took place during a cordon-and-search operation launched on specific information about his presence there, he added. Two more militants have also been trapped in the area, a report said.
Mr. Gillani confirmed that the slain militant, a divisional commander of the Lashkar, was the ‘mastermind’ of the Udhampur attack on the BSF convoy. He was involved also in the killing of J&K police’s counterinsurgency expert Inspector Muhammad Altaf Dar outside northern town of Bandipore on October 7. Dar was shot by Tata Mobile-borne militants while chasing Abu Qasim who was also reportedly on board.
Yet another major militant strike in which Abu Qasim was involved is the June 2013 fidayeen attack at an Army convoy in Srinagar’s Hyderpora area. As many as eight soldiers were killed in this attack. After the deadly strike, the J&K police had announced a Rs. 1 million bounty. Later, the NIA separately announced a reward of Rs. 1 million for any information leading to Abu Qasim's arrest or killing.
Mr. Gillani told a press conference here that it was on the directions of Abu Qasim that prominent cardiologist and former director of Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Dr. Sheikh Jalaluddin was attacked by the Lashkar’s Pakistani cadres Abu Hamza and Abu Usman in 2013 resulting into his and his personal security officer’s death.
He mentioned seven other major terror strikes in which he was involved as well and which left nine security personnel including a station house officer killed and six BSF jawans injured.
Police sources said that the security forces had laid an ambush in Khandaypora area following specific information about the movements of Abu Qasim. A fierce gun battle broke out around 2 am in which the militant commander was killed, sources said.
However, a report from Kulgam said that he was holed up in a private house with two other militants when the security forces arrived in the area and zeroed in on it leading to the gun battle. Abu Qasim was killed reportedly while trying to break the security forces’ dragnet.
IGP Mr. Gillani said that in Abu Qasim’s killing the Lashkar has suffered a “huge setback” as it would dent the terror group’s operational capabilities in Jammu and Kashmir and also the coordination between various militant outfits especially in the Valley. He had all praise for the policemen and other security forces involved in tracking down the Lashkar commander and other militants in recent counterinsurgency operations in the Valley. Asked if his killing would lead to closure of investigations in the Udhampur attack case, the officer said, "The case is being investigated by the NIA and they have to tie the loose ends before taking the investigations to the logical conclusion".
Endorsing him, Defence spokesman Lt. Col. N.N. Joshi in a statement added, “Relentless information based operations by the security forces which have resulted in elimination of 18 terrorists including three top commanders over the last two months alone, have struck a significant blow to the terrorists.”(sic)
Reports from Kulgam said that as the word about Abu Qasim’s killing spread, surging crowds clashed with police at various places in and outside Kulgam town forcing the latter to resort to aerial firing.
Earlier, the police fired teargas canisters and swung bamboo sticks to disperse irate crowds out on the streets to protest and mourn the Lashkar commander’s killing. The protests started from near the encounter site itself early in the morning. A spontaneous strike by traders and transporters was observed in the area, reports said.
Later during the day, thousands of people attended the funeral of Abu Qasim, witnesses and police sources said. He was buried in the ‘Mazaar-e-Shohda’ or ‘martyrs’ cemetery in Bugam area of Kulgam amidst chanting of ‘We want freedom’ , ‘There is no God but Allah’ , ‘Long live Islam’ and ‘Abu Qasim zinda hai’.
After the encounter in which he was killed, the police authorities handed his corpse over to the local Masjid Auquaf Committee for performing the last rites. The mourners carried it to the Clock Tower at Kulgam’s central square for offering jinaza prayer and then several kilometres away to Bugam for the burial, the sources said.
While a shutdown was being observed in many areas of Kulgam and its neighbourhood, the people of three districts-Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian- had claimed Abu Qasim’s body.
The video coverage of his funeral shows thousands of men, women and children walking along while the pallbearers are carrying his body wrapped in a white cloth for the burial site. Some youth can be seen waving Pakistan’s national flag and one similar to it – a green flag with a vertical white stripe at the hoist side but without white crescent moon and five-rayed star at its center.