KASHMIR …Hizbul chief Riyaz Naikoo gunned downat bunker in Pulwama

NEW DELHI: Hizbul Muhahideen chief and dreaded militant Riyaz Naikoo, carrying a million plus reward on his head, was gunned by a joint team of the Kashmir Police and the 21 Rashtriya Rifles on Wednesday morning, it was officially announced here. He was 32. The gun-battle lasted about eight hours.

Naikoo was confronted early this morning, after a police team lay in wait through the night, after getting information that he had come to meet his family members in his native village. He has been with Hizbul for over eight years and evaded security forces’ attempt to nail him, repeatedly with rare courage. The incident took place in Beighbora village in Awantipora. 

The Kashmir Police, which first got information about the presence of the militant, was ably backed by the 21 Rashtriya Rifles of the Indian Army.

Some other militants were also killed in the Kashmir encounter. One was Adil Ahmad Bhat of Panjaran Village. Naikoo was a close aide of the popular Hizb commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani who was killed in Bumdoora village in Kokernag area of South Kashmir on 8 July 2016.

Security sources were quoted in a report as saying Naikoo was working under code name Mohammad Bin Qasim. He become the operational chief commander of the Hizb after successor of Burhan Wani, Mohammad Yasin Itoo alias Mehmood Ghaznavi, was killed along with two of his associates in a gunfight with security forces at Awnira in Zainapora village of south Kashmir’s Shopian district in August 2017. Naikoo had figured in the list of 12 most militants issued by the army in 2017 as also in the hit-list of 17 top militants issued by intelligence agencies in 2018, carried Rs 12 lakh on head being A++ category militant, reports said.

In 2018, the Naikoo-led Hizb militants kidnapped 11 family members of policemen to get the release of his father Asadullah Naikoo from 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.
Meanwhile, sources said that Naikoo and Adil besides two other militants– Adil Manzoor Wani Of Padgam Pora and Rafiq Ahmad Dar of Kerinibal Samboorakilled in a gunfight at Sharshali Khrew Pulwama, were buried in presence of magistrate at Sonamarg Ganderbal. 

Kashmir was on the boil in recent weeks, again, following terrorist incursions from the Pakistani border. There have been a series of counter-insurgency operations in the Kashmir valley. On Sunday, five security personnel including the commanding officer of 21-Rashtriya Rifles and four others were martyred during an operation in Handwara in north Kashmir. Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, the commanding officer of 21-Rashtriya Rifles, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh and Jammu and Kashmir Police Sub-Inspector, Sageer Ahmad Pathan alias Qazi were martyred during the operation.



Naikoo, former Maths teacher and close associate of Burhan Wani, 

From a Maths teacher to a calculative militant, Reyaz Naikoo had a lucky run for eight years before he was killed by security forces on Wednesday in a gun battle lasting five hours, agency reports said. “Life came full circle for the 35-year-old bespectacled de facto chief of banned outfit Hizbul Mujahideen as he was gunned down in the same village from where he had scripted his journey into militancy in 2012 after he was detained by security forces during the unrest of 2010,” PTI news agency reported.

Naikoo successfully evaded police for eight years when most cannot even manage so for a year or a year-and-a-half. He escaped the security dragnet several times before he lost the battle in his native village Beighpora, 40 km from here, on Wednesday afternoon. His first ‘daily diary’ entry in police records at Awantipora, which is part of Pulwama district of south Kashmir, dates back to June 6, 2012, two weeks after he had disappeared from his home at Beighpora village.
From teaching mathematics, a subject he loved, at a private school to joining the militancy, Naikoo, who had 11 cases against him and carried a cash reward of Rs 12 lakh, was a loner as he seldom trusted anyone within his outfit, the report quoted a senior police officer as saying.
Naikoo was  tech savvy, but kept himself away from the limelight and allowed slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani to take the centre stage after 2014. Post Wani’s elimination, he kept himself away from the internal politics of the group and allowed Sabzar Ahmed and later Zakir Musa to take over the reins of the outfit. While Ahmed was neutralised within a few weeks after Wani’s death in July 2016, Musa split from the Hizbul Mujahideen group and formed his own Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, in 2017, leaving a vacuum in the group that was filled by Naikoo.
Naikoo was calculative in his operations and his next move was only known to him. Being a tech savvy, he never left any electronic trail about his movement, said the police official, who had been tracking him for several months. 

Son of a farmer, Naikoo, completed his graduation from Government Degree College in Pulwama and started teaching in a private school before he was detained by security forces during the unrest of 2010 and released in 2012. He was a changed man, and after his release in the third week of May 2012, he left his home and never returned there, till he shot into prominence in 2016 when he made a dramatic appearance at the funeral of a militant in Shopian, carrying a Kalashnikov rifle, the report added,  IHN-NN
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