Government forces killed the commander of a militant group in India-administered Kashmir, police said on Tuesday, as the disputed territory ended its deadliest year for a decade.
Noor Mohammad Tantray, the head in the Kashmir valley of the Jaish-e-Mohammad group, was trapped in a house outside Srinagar on Monday evening along with his associates, triggering a fierce overnight gunbattle.
Police described the operation as a “significant breakthrough” after Tantray’s body was found under debris on Tuesday.
Police and troops cordoned off a group of houses at Samboora, “which resulted in a fierce gunbattle leading to elimination of top Jaish commander Noor Mohammad Tantray,” police said in a statement.
Tantray’s two associates managed to escape, a police official said on condition of anonymity.
The 47-year-old Jaish commander, who was only three feet tall according to police reports, was described by officials as a new “security headache” when he took over as head of the group in India-administered Kashmir last year.
According to police he spent 12 years in jail after being convicted in a case of militancy in 2003, but jumped parole two years later to rejoin Jaish.
As news of Tantray’s death spread, hundreds of residents shouting “Go, India, go back!” spilt onto the streets, throwing stones and clashing with government forces who fired tear gas and pellet guns.
At least six protesters were injured, a police officer said.
Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan at the end of British colonial rule over the subcontinent in 1947. Both claim the entire Muslim-majority territory in full. Since 1989 rebel groups including Jaish have been fighting Indian troops and police deployed in the Himalayan territory. They seek its merger with Pakistan or its independence.
The fighting has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead.
Violence had steadily decreased during the last decade but this year some 350 deaths have been reported following the Indian army’s anti-militant offensive dubbed “Operation All-Out.” Officials and rights groups say 210 suspected rebels, mostly locals, 57 civilians and 82 troops or police have been killed this year.