Hizb commander who blasted Kashmir telecom towers killed

Srinagar: In a major setback to the Hizbul Mujahideen terror outfit, security forces on Tuesday killed one of its top commanders who was wanted for last year's attacks on communication towers in Jammu and Kashmir and many other terror-related cases, officials said. The killing triggered violent protests in Sopore, to which he belonged. Police said Sameer Wani was shot dead after security forces surrounded a house in Nagri village in Kupwara district, some 100 km from here, after information that some militants were hiding there. A police officer told IANS that security forces came under heavy fire from the hideout, leading to fighting that left Wani, the Hizb divisional commander for north Kashmir, dead. Police alleged that Wani was wanted for his involvement in dozens of attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and had unleashed a reign of terror last year after masterminding strikes on communication towers and their owners to cripple cellphone services in the state. The attacks on cell phone towers were claimed by a little-known militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Islam. Police said that Wani, who had earned a nickname "tower hunter", had set up the group as an offshoot of Hizbul Mujahideen.  The Hizbul Mujahideen had then denied any involvement and blamed security agencies for the attacks that had caused severe disruption of cellphone services in parts of the Kashmir Valley. Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin, who also heads terror conglomerate United Jihad Council (UJC) based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, paid tributes to the slain militant in a statement to a Srinagar-based news agency, CNS. Wani's death triggered angry protests in parts of north Kashmir. As soon as reports of his killing reached his Dooru village in Sopore sub-district, hundreds of residents came out to protest, shouting anti-government and pro-freedom slogans, witnesses and officials said. The protesters set ablaze a police vehicle in Shiva area after his body reached the village but its occupants were not harmed. Dozens of motorcycle-borne young men took out a rally as the militant commander's body was taken in a procession for funeral prayers. Hundreds of people attended Wani's burial in his village. Markets were closed and public transport spontaneously went off the road following Wani's death. The protesters also clashed with police and threw stones at them. Police fired tear gas canisters to disperse them as tension ran high in and around the area. On Tuesday also, suspected militants snatched an AK 47 rifle of a personal security guard of a Bharatiya Janata Party leader in central Kashmir Badgam district. In Delhi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the security situation in the state that has seen a sudden surge in militancy-related violence. On Saturday, militants killed eight paramilitary troopers in one of the deadliest firing attacks on their bus in a south Kashmir town. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, chiefs of intelligence agencies and other senior home ministry officials attended the meeting that also discussed militant incursion from across the border with Pakistan.