SRINAGAR: Four freedom fighters embraced martyrdom in gun battles in Indian-Occupied Kashmir on Wednesday, including the commander of the biggest freedom group fighting New Delhi in the disputed region, a police official said.
Hundreds of Indian soldiers launched an operation late on Tuesday after receiving intelligence that Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo was hiding in a village in Pulwama district.
Authorities also disabled mobile internet across the Kashmir region early on Wednesday to forestall large crowds from gathering in the streets to mourn his death.
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"He was trapped in a house and early today a gun battle took place during which he and his associate were killed," Kashmir's Inspector General of Police, Vijay Kumar, told Reuters.
Two more Kashmiris were killed in another gun battle nearby on Wednesday, Kumar added.
Naikoo, 35, had joined the freedom fighters in 2012, two years after around 100 people were martyred by Indian occupation troops during a restive summer marked by protests and violence.
A former maths teacher with a bounty of 1.2 million rupees ($15,800) on his head, Naikoo was an aide to Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani who embraced martyrdom in July 2016, leading to months of unrest.
"It is a major success for the troops in [occupied] Kashmir," Kumar said. Amid a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Indian troops have intensified operations in occupied Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority region in India that was split into two federally administered territories last August.
Since late March, around 20 Indian soldiers, including a high-ranking army officer, have been killed while 36 freedom fighters embraced martyrdom during the same period, according to official data.