Zakir Musa: Tensions in Kashmir after killing of top rebel

Killing of al-Qaeda-linked rebel sparks protests in disputed Muslim-majority region while thousands attend his funeral.

Women stand under umbrellas as they watch the body of Zakir Rashid Bhat
People attend Musa's funeral procession in Dadasara village in south Kashmir's Tral [Danish Ismail/Reuters]

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Tensions have erupted in Indian-administered Kashmir following the killing of al-Qaeda-linked rebel commander Zakir Musa in Pulwama district’s Tral area.

Protests and clashes were reported on Friday in many parts of the disputed Muslim-majority region against the killing of Musa, who had left Pakistani-based Hizbul Mujahideen armed group to join al-Qaeda two years ago.

Thousands of people took part in multiple funeral processions for the 25-year-old rebel leader in his home town of Tral.

Fearing an escalation in tensions, the authorities in Kashmir closed down schools, colleges and universities, while mobile internet services were also shut across the Himalayan region to prevent people from mobilising protests.

“The shutdown of internet services, schools and colleges will depend on the situation. We will review the situation in the evening,” Dilbagh Singh, the police chief, told Al Jazeera.

In the region’s main city of Srinagar, curfew and shutdown remained in place as the authorities prevented people from attending Friday prayers in the city’s grand mosque.

“Condemn that for the second time in Ramadan, Jumma prayers disallowed at Jamia Masjid,” senior separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said in a tweet.

“Extremely sad that each day Kashmir loses its promising young in one way or the other to the lingering conflict. Urge all the stakeholders to come together to put an end to this daily killing.”

Cordon and search operation

A cordon-and-search operation was launched in Tral’s Dadsara village on Thursday evening after they received a tip-off regarding Musa’s whereabouts, the state police chief Singh said.

Musa, whose real name is Zakir Rashid Bhat, was killed after an 11-hour operation.

“He was affiliated to Ansar Ghawzat-ul-Hind. His burial has been completed and the situation is peaceful as of now,” Singh said.

“We are taking all the precautions in terms of law and order. The militant was involved in many terrorist activities,” the official added.

The gunfight took place in a two-storey civilian house that was completely damaged.

After the news about the gunfight spread in the region late last night, hundreds of people came out on roads and raised anti-India slogans as the rebels in the region enjoy local support.

“Last evening, when we came to know about the gunfight, hundreds of villagers tried to march towards the site but were prevented by the forces,” said Ashiq Ahmad, a resident of Dadsara village. “We have not slept the whole night as the firing and sound of blasts continued till dawn. People were on the streets”.

A man uses his mobile phone to take pictures of a bullet-riddled wall of a residential house that was damaged during a gun battle between Zakir Rashid Bhat and Indian security forces
A man uses his mobile phone to take pictures of a bullet-riddled wall of a residential house that was damaged during a gun battle between Zakir Musa and Indian armed forces [Danish Ismail/Reuters]

In a statement, police said Musa was the only surviving rebel from the group of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander, whose killing sparked widespread protests in 2016.

More than 100 civilians were killed in deadly protests that continued over four months.

Both of the rebels belonged to Tral village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, where a suicide attack in February brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

In 2017, an al-Qaeda-linked propaganda media platform had announced that Musa had left Hizbul Mujahideen and joined an affiliate armed group, Ansar, as its head in Kashmir.

According to police, Ansar had less than a dozen members in the region, most of whom have been killed in the gunfights.

The police chief said that the counterinsurgency operation against the rebel groups will continue. In 2018, a record number of over 250 rebels were killed in the region. So far this year, more than 70 rebels have been killed, most of them in the villages of southern Kashmir – a rebel stronghold.

Musa was an engineering student before taking up arms against Indian rule in 2013 at the age of 19. His killing has put the Muslim-majority region on an edge where residents say could lead to a long spell of tension.

“It serves as an indication that the time is going to be very bad ahead,” said Ghulam Qadir, a local resident.

Source: Al Jazeera