In a major operation, the Jammu and Kashmir Police on Wednesday killed Hizbul Mujahideen's operational commander, Riyaz Naikoo, along with his one other associate, in an encounter in south Kashmir's Pulwama district.
The police termed the killing of Naikoo a major success.
Naikoo, a former math teacher, was the longest surviving militant active since 2012. He was categorized A+++ rank militant and carried a cash reward of Rs 12 lakh on his head.
The police said the operation to nab Naikoo was launched Tuesday night in Beighpora area of Pulwama -- his home village -- after the security agencies received inputs about the presence of militants in the area. The operation was monitored by senior police officers.
Naikoo's killing comes days after militants killed eight security personnel including an Army Colonel, Major and an SHO in two separate encounters in north Kashmir.
Naikoo took over the reins of Hizbul Mujahideen in 2017 after its commander Yasin Itoo was killed in an encounter in Shopian. Naikoo’s sudden ascendance in 2017 took observers by surprise as he had maintained a low profile since he had joined militancy in 2012.
Naikoo took over the command of Hizb when its another commander, Zakir Musa, parted ways with the outfit and floated Ansar-ul-Ghazwat-ul-Hind militant outfit and swore allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
Musa was a well-known commander and a prominent face of Hizb after the killing of popular militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016. Wani’s killing and subsequent mass protests led to large scale recruitment into militant ranks.
Analysts say that Naikoo’s success was not allowing any drift of Hizb cadres towards Musa’s Ansar-ul-Ghazwat-ul-Hind. He was also very tech savvy and would frequently come up with audio messages in different issues.
In 2018, Naikoo-led Hizb militants kidnapped 11 family members of policemen prompting the police to release his father Asadullah Naikoo from their custody. The police had picked Asadullah from his Awantipora home in south Kashmir, a day after militants had killed four policemen in Shopian. Later, in an audio message, Riyaz had warned the police of dangerous consequences if the relatives of militants were not released.
Last time such an exchange of prisoners had taken place was in 1999 when Indian Airlines flight IC 814 was hijacked to secure the release of Moulana Masood Azhar, Mustaq Ahmed Zargar.