Violent Protests break out across Kashmir after Hizbul commander Sabzar Ahmad Bhat is killed

The Indian Security Forces on Saturday gunned down Hizbul Mujahideen militant Sabzar Ahmad Bhat in Tral area of Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district after a hour-long encounter.

Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, 27, believed to be the successor of slain Hizbul commander Burhan Wani, was gunned down in an overnight raid at a hideout in Tral along with another militant, who has been identified as Faizaan Muzaffar, 15, who dropped out of school to join the Hizbul Mujahideen in March this year.

A native of Rathsuna village in Tral, 28-year-old Sabzar was a close friend of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani, killed in an encounter last year, and had joined the terrorist outfit at his behest. Police said Sabzar was involved in attacks on panchayat members and security forces. He was responsible for killing civilians after branding them “police informers”.

Kashmir is on the boil since the killing of Burhan Wani, a poster-boy of home grown militancy, deepened anti-India sentiments in the valley. Nearly 100 people were killed in street protests and hundreds of others were blinded or maimed by pellets fired by forces.

Burhan Muzaffar Wani, also known as Burhan Wani, was a commander of Hizbul Mujahideen,a Kashmir-based militant outfit.He was popular among the Kashmiris due to his activity on social media where he advocated against Indian rule in Kashmir.He was killed in an encounter with the Indian security forces on 8 July 2016.

Widespread protests erupted in the Kashmir valley after Wani’s  death, causing 2016 unrest in valley for nearly half a year.  in which more than 90 people died while over 15,000 civilians and more than 4,000 security personnel were injured.

The violence which erupted after Wani’s death was described as the worst unrest in the region since the 2010 Kashmir unrest, with Kashmir being placed under 53 consecutive days of curfews imposed by Indian authorities that was lifted from all parts of the region on 31 August 2016.

Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, found entry into the militant outfit when he snatched a weapon from a CRPF soldier at Tral in April 2015 after Wani’s brother Khalid was killed by security forces in the town’s Kamla forests.

Sabzar was named its new commander after Zakir alias Musa quit Hizbul Mujahideen following his threat this month to “behead Hurriyat leaders for calling the Kashmir struggle a political and not an Islamic movement”, police said. Sabzar received training in the use of arms in the Tral forests and never crossed over to Pakistan.

The news of Bhat’s death triggered widespread protests in Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag, Sopore, Kupwara and Srinagar, and large parts of the valley were completely shut down.

The state government has snapped mobile Internet, re-banned social media sites, and imposed curfew in several parts of the Valley. The separatists have called for a complete shutdown for two days.

Violent protests sparked across the valley in a matter of hours. A couple of hours after the announcement of Bhat’s killing, shutdowns were announced in several parts of Kashmir. Protests were seen in all major towns and districts in the valley particularly in Anantnag, Shopian, Kulgam, Pulwama, Badgam, Ganderbal, Srinagar and Kupwara.

District Magistrate Farooq Lone announced that curfew will be imposed at seven police station areas of Srinagar as a precautionary measure to restrict the spread of violent protests. It was imposed in Khanyar, Kralkhud, Maharaj Gunj, Maisuma, Nowhatta, Rainawari and Safakadal police station area.

Also, educational institutions in Srinagar will stay closed on Monday.Restrictions have also been imposed in Anantnag, Pulwama and Shopian districts in south Kashmir and in the township of Sopore in north Kashmir, according to officials.

The army’s Northern Command said the encounters were a result of “relentless operations” by security forces to “defeat desperate attempts by Pak and Pak-sponsored agents to spread terror in the state in the run up to the holy month of Ramzan”.

It said six militants were killed in the Rampur sector of the LoC when they were trying to enter India. On Friday, forces killed two members of a Pakistani border action team known as BAT, also along the LoC.

Police sources said Bhat’s killing could hurt the Hizbul Mujahideen, coming within weeks of another influential commander Zakir Musa severing ties with the outfit.

“They Hizbul Mujahideen leadership will have to send someone from Pakistan to take charge of the organisation, which is not possible,” a police official said.

The outfit, designated as a terrorist outfit by India, the United States and the European Union has mostly locally-trained militants who are facing shortage of arms and ammunition. The organisation was involved in several recent incidents of arms snatching.

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