by Shams Irfan
SRINAGAR: Acting on specific inputs about the presence of militants, a cordon and search operation (CASO) was launched in the predawn hours in Kuthpora village of Chattergam area in Budgam by a joint team of 50 RR, SOG, and police.
After the cordon tightened, a door-to-door search was launched to pinpoint the location of hiding militants. It was during the search that the exchange of fire took place that established the presence of militants. This triggered a gunfight, later. According to reports, the militants were hiding in a single storey house belonging to Ashiq Hussain, a labourer.
By 9 am, a number of youngsters started marching towards the encounter site, trying to help trapped militants escape. However, before they could reach near the place where the gun-battle was still going on, they were stopped by CRPF personnel and policemen. It led to intense stone-pelting. The government forces retaliated by firings tear-smoke shells, pellets, and some bullets, leaving at least three youngsters injured. The injured youth were shifted to Srinagar for treatment.
Almost same time, police claimed to have killed two militants in the gunfight. Later, top police sources confirmed that one of the two slain militants was Lashkar-e-Toiba commander Naveed Jatt alias Abu Hanzala, who escaped from Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, Srinagar in February 2018. In June 2018, Naveed’s name surfaced in the killing of Shujaat Bukhari, editor Rising Kashmir, in Srinagar’s Press Enclave, just outside his office. This made Jatt one of the most wanted militants in Kashmir.
The other militant killed with Jatt was identified as Mehraj-u-din-Khan, a resident of Sopore.
According to police Naveed Jatt crossed over into Kashmir valley along with a group of Lashkar-e-Toiba militants in October 2012. Today police released a press statement saying that Jatt was involved in the killing of an ASI in Pulwama on May 2013; series of grenade attacks on government forces, and was involved in the killing of CRPF personnel at Awneera, Shopian in August 2013. Jatt was involved in conspiring and executing several bank robberies and attacks in South Kashmir including an attack on Court Complex Pulwama in March 2014 in which two policemen were killed. In April 2014, Jatt was involved in an attack on polling party in Shopian, in which several civilian sustained injuries and one presiding officer namely Zai-ul-Haq Wani was killed. In June 2014, Jatt was involved in an attack on a police party at Bongam Shopian.
On June 20, 2014, the bullet-ridden body of Lashkar-e-Toiba militant Zakir Syed Bhat, a resident of Shungus village, was recovered by police from open fields in Chinigam village of Yaripora area in Kulgam. The same day, working on a specific input, a joint party of police and troops of 62 Rashtriya Rifles and 18th battalion CRPF, arrested Naveed Jatt, then 19, from a hideout in Shampora village of Yaripora in Kulgam. At that time Jatt was Lashkar’s district commander Kulgam. Jatt was a close associate of then Lashkar chief in Kashmir Abu Qasim. At the time of his arrest one AK-47 Rifle, two magazines, and 60 rounds were recovered from Jat.
During interrogation Jat alias Abu Hanzullah told police that he is a resident of Sahiwala area of Multan in Pakistan.
Quoting his disclosure police claimed that Jatt was part of militant Ajmal Kasab group at a Madrassa in Pakistan.
After his arrest, Jatt was lodged in Central Jail Srinagar for the next four years. On February 6, 2018, Jatt, who was brought to SMHS hospital in Srinagar for a check-up, managed to escape after killing two cops accompanying him. He fled with the help of two other guys who carried pistols.
His dramatic escape shocked entire security grid as the attack to free him happened in Srinagar, inside the hospital premises. Two days after his escape Jatt’s picture alongside then Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Saddam Padder surfaced on social media sites. Over the days Jatt posed with almost every militant commander active in south Kashmir including Sameer Tiger, Adil Malik, and Riyaz Naikoo. Jatt, who was originally associated with Lashkar, started moving around with militants from Hizb.
According to police Jatt’s presence on the ground helped Hizb and Lashkar to come closer again, first time after Abu Dujana’s killing. In order to stay in the limelight, Jatt’s videos and pictures would occasionally surface on the social media. But the hunt for Jatt intensified after police revealed that he was part of the group who killed Shujaat Bukhari, editor Rising Kashmir, in June 2018. Lashkar-e-Toiba, however, denied Jatt’s involvement in Bukhari’s murder.
However, on August 4, 2018, unmindful of the hunt, Jatt made a dramatic appearance at the funeral of Lashkar-e-Toibamilitant Waqar Ahmad Sheikh at Malikgund in Shopian. This was Jatt’s first public appearance at a militant’s funeral after his escape from SMHS hospital in Srinagar.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh while addressing a rally in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh said, “In Kashmir, in last 3-4 days, our forces killed 18-19 terrorists. Even today our forces killed the commander of LeT, Naveed Jatt.”
A K Bhatt, GOC Army’s 15 Corps said, “In an operation this morning in Budgam, 2 terrorists were killed. One of them is Naveed Jatt, he was believed to be involved in the killing of journalist Shujaat Bukhari. 2 of our men were also injured & taken to the hospital, both are out of danger.”
After the government forces left with Jatt and his yet to be identified associates bodies, hundreds of people rushed towards the encounter site to help clear the debris. A video circulated on social media sites show a young boy, wearing a traditionalPheran, emerge from one of the houses with an AK47 rifle in his hand. The authenticity of the video could not be ascertained immediately but according to eyewitnesses, the young boy was the third militant who was inside the house with Jatt and his associate while encounter took place. His identity was not immediately known.
Police Press Conference
At 1 pm, Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh and Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, S P Pani addressed media in Srinagar, after the killing of Naveed Jatt. “The reports emerging from the gunfight site suggest that top Lashkar-e-Toibacommander Naveed Jatt is among the two militants killed in Chattergam,” Singh told reporters. “There is a decline in militancy as top commanders and their operatives were killed.”
Singh said that the “good news” is “no new recruitment has happened in the last few months in the militant ranks as youth have shunned militancy”.
Singh told reporters that, “stone pelting incidents are now less. Even collateral damage during encounters has come down because of people’s cooperation.”
On being asked about the fate of Jatt’s body Singh said, “Since Naveed Jatt is a Pakistani national, following the procedure competent authorities shall be approached in Govt of India for taking up the matter with Pakistan for handing over his body to them.”
Lashkar pays Tribute
A spokesperson of LeT Dr Abdullah Ghaznavi in a statement issued to GNS paid tribute to Jatt and Mehraj, two militants killed at Kuthpora, Chattergam in Budgam. “Both the warriors were true sons of the soil who fought till last breath,” said Ghaznawi. “Every soul in Jammu Kashmir is heart-wrenched over the loss of their son.”