Key Kashmir rebel leader killed by India forces

20 May 2020
Key Kashmir rebel leader killed by India forces
Explosions and gunshots echoed through central Srinagar during the battle (AFP Photo/Tauseef MUSTAFA)

Two Kashmir militants including a key rebel leader were killed by Indian government forces during a 12-hour gun battle in the restive region's capital on Tuesday, authorities said.

Such clashes are a common occurrence in the disputed territory but rare in Srinagar, and the siege marked the first shootout in the city's centre for two years.

Explosions and gunshots echoed through the densely populated neighbourhood, with streets largely empty as a result of a coronavirus lockdown that has kept most residents to their homes.

Paramilitary troops and police exchanged fire with militants after cordoning off part of the area.

Five homes were reduced to rubble during the battle and 10 others were severely damaged, residents told AFP.

Junaid Ahmed Sehrai, a commander of the largest Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen and the son of a top separatist leader, was killed in the clash, police said in a statement.

Another Hizbul Mujahideen member was also killed and four Indian police officers were wounded, the statement said.

Most mobile voice and internet services were cut across the city as the fighting kicked off and have yet to be restored.

Locals poured onto the streets as news of the killings spread to hurl stones at Indian forces, who fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to disperse them. No injuries were reported.

The deaths came two weeks after Hizbul Mujahideen chief Riyaz Naikoo and a close aide were killed by government forces in the southern Kashmir valley during a two-day gun battle.

Counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir have been stepped up during the coronavirus lockdown, while rebels have continued to attack government forces.

Unlike in the past, authorities now bury slain militants far away from their homes in unpopulated frontier areas to stop large funerals from being held.

Police said 73 militants had been killed in Kashmir this year, many of them during the ongoing Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Rebel groups have fought for decades for the region's independence or its merger with Pakistan and enjoy broad popular support.

The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, since 1989.

India has more than 500,000 troops stationed in Kashmir.