Indian Forces Kill Leader of Al Qaeda Affiliate in Kashmir: Police

May 24, 2019 Updated: May 24, 2019

SRINAGAR—Indian forces have killed the leader of an al Qaeda affiliated terrorist group in Kashmir, police said on Friday, May 24, triggering protests in parts of the disputed region.

Zakir Rashid Bhat, 25, was trapped by security forces in a three-story house in southern Kashmir late on Thursday, said a senior police officer, adding that the house was set ablaze during the operation.

“As we were clearing debris from the house, he tried to get up. Our troops fired at him and he was killed,” said the officer, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media.

Damaged roof Zakir Rashid Bhat
People stand amidst the damaged rooftop of a residential house that was damaged during a gun battle between Zakir Rashid Bhat also known as Zakir Musa, the leader of an al Qaeda affiliated terrorist group in Kashmir, and Indian security forces in Dadasara village in south Kashmir’s Tral on May 24, 2019. (Danish Ismail/Reuters)

For decades, separatists have fought an armed conflict against Indian rule in Kashmir, with the majority of them wanting independence for the Himalayan region, or to join New Delhi’s arch rival Pakistan.

India has stepped up an offensive against terrorists in the extremist-majority region since a suicide attack in February killed 40 Indian troopers in Kashmir and brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

Indian soldiers examine the debris after an explosion in Lethpora in south Kashmir's Pulwama district
Indian soldiers examine the debris after an explosion in Lethpora in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Feb. 14, 2019. (Younis Khaliq/Reuters)

Pakistan denies giving material support to terrorists in Kashmir but says it provides moral and diplomatic backing for the self-determination of Kashmiri people.

Protests by supporters of Bhat broke out in parts of Kashmir on Thursday and there were reports of demonstrations early on Friday, the police officer said.

Fearing more unrest, authorities said schools were closed and railway services suspended in the affected areas.

Any large scale unrest in the region would be a challenge for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he prepares for a second term after winning a general election on Thursday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he is presented with a garland during a thanksgiving ceremony by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders to its allies at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, on May 21, 2019. (Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo/Reuters)

Bhat, a former commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest of the terrorist groups fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir, founded his own group and declared its association with al Qaeda in 2017.

Also known as Zakir Musa, he was seen as a successor to Burhan Wani, a popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander whose death in 2016 sparked clashes that left 90 civilians dead.

By Fayaz Bukhari