SRINAGAR, India – Authorities imposed on Friday a curfew in parts of India-administered Kashmir, a day after security forces said they had killed an al-Qaeda-linked top militant commander in the disputed region.
Zakir Musa, 25, who allegedly headed the al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar Ghawzat-ul-Hind in the restive state, was killed in a gunfight with government forces on Thursday evening in south Kashmir’s Tral area, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the state’s summer capital Srinagar, the additional director general of police, Munir Khan, told EFE
Local residents told EFE that his body was recovered from the debris of two residential houses that were damaged during the gun battle.
“We heard dozens of blast sounds in the evening after forces (laid down a) cordon” in an area where the militant commander was hiding, said Fayaz Mir, a local resident.
The killing of Musa, one of the most popular Kashmiri militant commanders known for his outspoken Islamist ideology, triggered spontaneous protests across the Kashmir Valley.
Fearing more protests, the authorities shut down schools and colleges on Friday, suspended railway services and imposed strict restrictions on the movement of people in the affected areas, including Srinagar.
“We have imposed restrictions in Srinagar and many other areas, especially Tral and Pulwama (in south Kashmir) to maintain law and order,” Khan said.
Internet services on mobile phones have also been restricted to stop people from organizing protests after weekly congregational prayers on Friday afternoon.
“Measures like internet suspension are all preventive and precautionary,” a police officer, who didn’t want to be named, told EFE.
Musa, born Zakir Rashid Bhat, was previously linked to Hizbul Mujahideen, one of the largest militant groups active in Kashmir that seeks the Muslim-majority region’s merger with Pakistan.
He headed the group’s operational command as the successor to Burhan Wani, a popular commander, whose killing in 2016 sparked widespread clashes that left nearly 100 civilians dead and thousands injured in months of violent street protests.
However, in 2017, Musa broke off with the group and an al-Qaeda-linked propaganda network said he had joined Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind – the newly-launched Kashmiri franchise of the global militant network – as its head.
After the move, Musa slipped into oblivion except for a couple of brief audio messages, the latest one shared online in April. In it, he blamed Pakistan and its army for weakening the struggle of Kashmir to establish sharia – a strict interpretation of Islamic law – in the region.
Residents from his native village in Tral, which has become the latest hub of anti-India militancy in the disputed state, said Musa’s body was handed over to his relatives on Friday morning. Despite restrictions, a large number of people gathered in Noorpora village to take part in his funeral prayers.
The killing took place on a day Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won his second term in office.
Any widespread unrest in the only Muslim-majority state of India would pose a new challenge to Modi as he prepares to form his new government in coming days.
The idyllic Himalayan region, with deep-rooted anti-India sentiments, is divided between India and Pakistan by a de facto border called the Line of Control.
The two South Asian nuclear neighbors claim the strategically crucial territory in its entirety, and it has been the cause of two wars and many smaller military conflicts between them.
The most highly-militarized zone on the Indian side erupted with an armed rebellion in the late 1980s, which has since claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people.
India has been blaming Pakistan for sponsoring the revolt but Islamabad denies the allegation, saying it only provided moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris for their right to self-determination.