THE GHOST GUNMEN
A wave of puzzling murders suggests an internecine battle among the militants
On September 8, Hakeem-ur-Rehman Sultani of the Hurriyat’s Geelani faction was killed in Sopore’s Bomai village. Unidentified assailants stopped his car and shot him, execution-style. Recently out after 18 months in jail under J&K’s contentious Public Safety Act, Sultani had been in the vanguard of a 2009 agitation that led to the removal of an army camp in Bomai and the 2016 protests after Burhan Wani’s killing.
Three days after Sultani was killed, Abdul Ahad Ganai, a PhD scholar from Aligarh Muslim University, who the police knew as an overground worker for the Lashkar-e-Taiba, was similarly shot dead in his car in Srinagar’s Khanyar locality. Bilquees, his wife and a lecturer in economics, claims she had no idea of her husband’s links with militants.
Police officials blame militants for the killings though Sopore SP Javid Iqbal ‘officially’ says Sultani’s killing is still under investigation. The separatist Hurriyat leadership—S.A.S. Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik—however disputes the claim. “The invisible hand of Indian agencies can’t be ruled out,” they stated, warning that the “revival of custodial and mysterious killings” could
result in “group clashes and anarchy”.
Security officials say the killings reflect the hardening tussle between the Pakistan-based United Jihad Council (UJC) and Jammu-Kashmir Islamic State (JKIS), a nascent grouping of IS militants. The latter claimed responsibility for Ganai’s killing, describing him as an “Indian intelligence officer”. Meanwhile, the UJC-affiliated Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen (TuM) denounced the killing and charged the killers of doing Delhi’s bidding. “These unknown gunmen are Indian forces and their agents carrying out a massacre of Kashmiris in a planned manner,” TuM chief Sheikh Jameel-ur-Rehman said.
Significantly, up until now, the Zakir Musa-led Ansar Gazwatul Hind (allied to Al Qaeda) was the only Valley-based militant outfit to publicly criticise the proPakistan UJC and the separatist leadership
THE HURRIYAT SAYS THIS REVIVAL OF “MYSTERY KILLINGS” WILL LEAD TO “GROUP CLASHES, ANARCHY”
for their failure to connect the Kashmiri struggle with the global jihad.
For its part, the UJC dubs the JKIS and Musa’s outfit as vigilantes working for the government. “A new ikhwan is being created in the past few months in the name of IS and Al Qaeda using the facade of Zakir Musa… they are being hailed by the Indian media and the impression is given that these paid agents are the real heroes of the Kashmir struggle,” UJC spokesperson Sadakat Hussain said after Musa was ousted from the HM last year.
Security officials, however, contest this. “Clashes between militant outfits are not new,” says a senior J&K police officer. “This (militant rivalry) was brewing for some time and is now in the open.” Whatever the case, the rift in the militant ranks is evident, and security officials say this could well set the agenda for future counter-insurgency in the Valley.
WHO KILLED HIM?The slain Abdul Ahad’s wife Bilquees shows a picture of him on her phone