Zakir Musa's killing is billed as a major blow to the armed rebellion in India-administered Kashmir, where thousands have come out on the streets in fresh anti-New Delhi protests.

Kashmiri villagers participate in the funeral procession of Zakir Musa, a top militant commander associated with Al Qaeda, as it rains in Tral, south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir. May 24, 2019.
Kashmiri villagers participate in the funeral procession of Zakir Musa, a top militant commander associated with Al Qaeda, as it rains in Tral, south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir. May 24, 2019. (AFP)

Indian troops and police killed a top militant commander in India-administered Kashmir, officials said on Friday, as authorities restricted internet access and enforced a curfew to prevent anti-India protests.

Zakir Musa was killed on Thursday evening in a gunfight after police and soldiers launched a counterinsurgency operation in the southern Tral area, said Colonel Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesman.

Musa, linked to Al Qaeda but popular in Kashmir, refused to surrender and lobbed grenades at the troops after they zeroed in on his hideout in a civilian home, police said.

Residents said troops destroyed the home using explosives, a common tactic by Indian forces in Kashmir.

Musa's killing triggered violent anti-India protests in many places. No one was immediately reported injured.

Internet suspended

Authorities cut off the internet on mobile phones in a common tactic to make organising anti-India protests difficult and discourage dissemination of protest videos. 

They also imposed a curfew across much of the Kashmir Valley, including in the main city of Srinagar, in anticipation of more protests and clashes, and ordered schools and colleges to remain closed.

Later Friday, thousands participated in Musa's funeral despite rains and the security lockdown.

Musa joined Kashmir's largest rebel group Hizbul Mujahideen in 2013 after dropping out of his engineering course.

But in mid-2017, an Al Qaeda-linked propaganda network said he became the head of an affiliate militant group Ansar Ghawzatul Hind, with fewer than a dozen others.

Musa regularly issued audio messages mainly stressing that Kashmir’s struggle was for the Islamic cause and had nothing to do with nationalism, highlighting a shift in ideology among some rebels in the region where militants have mainly fought for either independence of Indian-administered Kashmir or merger with Pakistan.

Media sensation

He instantly became a media sensation, particularly with New Delhi-based TV news channels using him to showcase that Kashmiri struggle for independence was part of a global militant agenda. Previously, no global militant groups have openly operated in Kashmir, a territory divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both entirely.

All Kashmir rebel groups rejected Musa and his affiliate, some even calling him inimical to their cause.

Pro-independence groups, who challenge India's sovereignty over Kashmir, have repeatedly rejected the presence of outside groups, including Al Qaeda, and have accused India of portraying the Kashmiri struggle as extremist.

Musa was a close aide of Burhan Wani, a charismatic Kashmiri rebel leader whose killing in 2016 triggered open defiance against Indian rule.

Wani's death and the resulting public fury brought the armed rebellion into the mainstream in Kashmir and revived a rebel movement that had withered in recent years to only about 100 fighters in scattered outfits.

Officials say since Wani's killing, hundreds of young men have joined rebel ranks, some of them after stealing weapons from soldiers and police. Wani's death also cemented a shift in public behaviour, with people displaying anger at Indian rule openly and violently when troops raid villages to hunt rebels.

Rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Nearly 100,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies