Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) top commander Naveed Jhatt and his associate were killed and three Army men injured in a fierce gunfight at Kuthpora village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district on Wednesday.
Police said a pre-dawn Cordon and Search Operation (CASO) was launched by troops following intelligence inputs about presence of militants at Kuthpora village.
As the searches were being conducted by forces, the hiding militants opened fire on search party.
“The fire was retaliated, triggering a gunfight. In the ensuing gunfight two militants were killed and their bodies were retrieved from the encounter site,” a police official said.
DGP Dilbagh Singh said one of the deceased militant was identified as Pakistani militant Naveed Jhatt alias Abu Hanzalla. “The identity of another militant was being ascertained”.
DIG of police central Kashmir Vidhi Kumar Birdi said the operation was a bit complex as there were number of houses and it was little difficult to zero-in on the target.
“By that manner it was bit complex and complicated operation,” he said.
On whether Jhatt tried to flee, DIG said there were some attempts but the troops foiled them.
Soon after the gunfight, pictures were circulated on social media, showing a militant being helped by locals to escape from the gunfight site.
“We are ascertaining the veracity of video or photo being circulated on social media,” Birdhi told Rising Kashmir.
According to police, Jhatt, who hails from Multan Pakistan, had infiltrated into Kashmir along with a group of militants in October 2012.
“He was arrested in 2014. However, on February 6 this year, he managed to escape from police custody at Srinagar’s SMHS hospital, where he was brought for treatment from central jail, Srinagar. Two policemen who were accompanying Jhatt to the hospital were killed by the militants as he escaped from their captivity,” a police spokesman said.
He said Jhatt was part of AjmalKasab group and the had undergone arms training together in Pakistan.
“Jhatt had been involved in many militancy incidents in Kashmir since 2012. He was wanted by police for his complicity in a series of crimes including killing of noted journalist ShujaatBukhari, attacks on security establishments, conspiring and executing several bank robberies and other civilian killings,” the spokesman said.
DGP Dilbag Singh said Jhatt, the chief commander of LeT in Kashmir, was one of the prime suspects in killing of senior journalist and Rising Kashmir founding editorShujaatBukhari.
“If he would have been caught alive, many more leads were possible in Shujaat killing case,” he said.
Singh said since Jhatt has been killed now, to what extent he was exactly involved or not involved in the killing of ShujaatBukhari, that episode is over now. “But, investigation is on”.
Since Jhatt is a Pakistani national, the DGP said, they would approach the competent authorities in Government of India (GoI) for taking up the matter with Pakistan for handing over his body to them.
Reports said police had managed access to a video chat of Jhatt, which helped in joining the dots and tracking his last location in Budgam.
Jhatt, source said, was seen as dangerous hardcore militant, who was aware of informer network of police and had gained the topographical knowledge during his presence in the Valley.
They said he had become close to Azad Malik alais Dada, a LeT militant commander who killed last week in south Kashmir.
Jhatt, who was the main operational militant in LeT group, was a close aide of LeT commanders Rehman and Abu Qasim.
The intense clashes erupted between youth and forces near gunfight site following killing of Jhatt and another militant in the gunfight.
Before launching the CASO in the village, authorities suspended mobile internet services in the central Kashmir district.