SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Indian forces have killed a top militant commander and his two associates in a counterinsurgency operation in Indian-controlled Kashmir, police said Wednesday.
Hamid Lelhari and his associates were killed Tuesday evening in a gunfight that erupted after Indian security forces launched a counterinsurgency operation in southern Awantipora area, said Dilbagh Singh, chief of police in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Police say Lelhari became the operations chief of Ansar Ghawzat-ul-Hind, an affiliate of the al-Qaida militant group, after Indian troops killed a top militant, Zakir Musa, last year.
Singh said the group has been wiped out in Kashmir with Tuesday’s killings.
Indian forces suffered no casualties or injuries in the fighting, he said.
On Wednesday, thousands of people participated in three separate funerals for the killed militants in their native villages.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but claimed by both in entirety. Rebels groups have been fighting in Kashmir since 1989. They have repeatedly rejected the presence of outside groups, including al-Qaida.
In mid-2017, an al-Qaida-linked propaganda network said Musa joined its affiliate group after he quit Kashmir’s largest rebel group, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
Musa regularly issued audio messages that mainly stressed that Kashmiris’ struggle was for an Islamic cause and had nothing to do with nationalism. This highlighted a shift in ideology among some rebel groups that have mainly fought for Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan.
New Delhi-based television channels used him to showcase that Kashmir’s struggle was part of a global militant agenda. Previously, no global insurgent groups had openly operated in Kashmir.
India accuses Pakistan of supporting militancy in Kashmir. Pakistan rejects the charge and says it provides only moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris.