Srinagar: Riyaz Naikoo, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant whose killing in a gunfight in Pulwama is being claimed as a spectacular feat by the security forces, was among the 10 most wanted men in Kashmir.
A 35-year-old math teacher who joined the militant ranks in 2012, Naikoo quickly rose to be the Hizbul Mujahideen's ‘operational commander' after incumbent Zakir Musa quit the outfit to form a separate outfit a couple of years ago. Musa had replaced Burhan Muzaffar Wani in that role.
The Jammu & Kashmir police said the encounter that killed Riyaz Naikoo took place in his native village Baigpora. The Army's 55 Rashtriya Rifles, the Jammu & Kashmir Police's counterinsurgency Special Operations Group (SOG) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) took part in the operation that started Tuesday night.
Naikoo was in June last year named as one of the ten 'most wanted terrorists' by the Union Home Ministry. It assigned the counterinsurgency grid in J&K the “chief task” to eliminate him as soon as possible, fixing a reward of Rs. 12 lakh on his head.
Home Ministry sources had said the list of ten “most wanted” was prepared on the basis of inputs from J&K police, the Army, CRPF and other central armed forces and various intelligence agencies.
Six on the list belonged to the Hizb Mujahideen, two to Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and one each to Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and Al-Badr Mujahideen, sources had said.
Riyaz Ahmed Naikoo alias Muhammad bin Qasim was one of the Hizb six in the Most Wanted list. According to the news agency PTI, Naikoo's first 'daily diary' entry in the police records at Awantipora in Pulwama district dates back to June 6, 2012, two weeks after he had disappeared from his home in Baigpora village.
Operating under the alias Zubair, he initially replaced Zakri Musa as the Hizb's district commander for Pulwama district. He was soon placed in the category A++ militants list by the security forces.
As per the J&K police, he became a close associate of Burhan Wani, until the militant leader's slaying in july 2016, which sparked widespread trouble in Kashmir. When Burhan Wani's successor Zakir Musa defected from the Hizb to form a separate outfit called Ansar Gazwat-Ul-Hind (Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in India), Naikoo took the command of the Hizb in J&K. Zakir Musa himself was killed in a firefight with the security forces in the Tral area of Pulwama in March last year.
The J&K police said Naikoo was responsible for the “revival” of the Hizb after it suffered heavy losses in the hands of security forces.
Naikoo would often try to reach out to people and fellow militants through audio and video messages on social media. In one such message he shrugged off the Centre’s abrogating Article 370 and bifurcating J&K into two Union Territories in August last year as “irrelevant to us” and vowed to continue with “armed struggle for freedom and national salvation”.
Mobile internet services were snapped and the uniformed forces began enforcing curfew-like restrictions in major towns of the Valley including summer capital Srinagar on Wednesday amid reports that Naikoo had been trapped in one of the three encounters that were raging between separatist militants and the security forces in Pulwama district since Tuesday night. After the confirmation of Naikoo’s death all mobile phone services barring those provided by the BSNL were also suspended. The authorities here said that these steps were taken “as a precautionary measure.”
Reports pouring in here said that clashes between irate crowds of mainly youth occurred at various places across the Valley as the word about Naikoo’s killing spread. The police authorities termed these clashes as ‘minor’ and said action warranted under law was taken at each place to restore peace.
The bespectacled Riyaz Naikoo was a loner who seldom trusted anyone within his own outfit, said a senior police officer. He was a tech savvy militant who never left an electronic trail, and kept away from the limelight and allowed other militants to take take centre stage.
The son of a farmer, Naikoo completed his graduation from Government Degree College in Pulwama and started teaching mathematics in a private school. His transition to militancy came during his detention by the security forces during the unrest of 2010. It was two years before he was released in 2012.
He was a changed man after his release, and in the third week of May 2012, he left his home, never to return until his killing there Tuesday.
He shot into prominence in 2016 when he made a dramatic appearance at the funeral of a terrorist in Shopian carrying a Kalashnikov rifles. There he fired several shots in the air, thus starting a trend of giving a gun salute to militants who were killed in encounters with security forces.
Naikoo gave anxious moments to the police in September 2018 when he picked up 11 relatives of police officers after his father was detained by police. He was subsequently released and so were the hostages, leaving the police officials red-faced....