By Amin Masoodi
Six people, including the head of a pro-Islamic State group and three suspected militants, were killed Friday during a gun battle in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, police said.
The firefight took place two days after India’s central government took direct control of Indian Kashmir by placing it under so-called governor’s rule.
S.P. Vaid, director general of police, said the clash erupted after militants who had taken shelter in a house fired at security forces in Anantnag district’s Nowshera village, about 55 km (34 miles) from Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city.
The home owner was killed and his wife was injured, Vaid said, adding that a policeman also died in the gun battle.
Vaid identified the slain militant leader as Dawood Ahmad Sofi, 32.
“He was behind a series of terror attacks on security forces,” Vaid said, alleging that the other three slain militants were also involved in recent terror strikes.
He did not elaborate.
“Their killing is a major setback to militant groups hell-bent on disrupting peace in the region,” he told BenarNews.
The gunfight prompted rallies in the district, where about two dozen protesters were injured after stone-throwing demonstrators clashed with police, officials said.
Authorities said they temporarily shut down internet services in the region “to help maintain order” and to make it difficult for demonstrators to organize more protests.
About a dozen police officers were injured Friday after suspected militants hurled a grenade at a contingent on patrol in Pulwama district, about 39 km (24 miles) northwest of Anantnag, police said. A local news agency said Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest separatist group fighting against Indian rule in the region, claimed responsibility for the attack.
India and its arch rival Pakistan became separate countries after British rule in the subcontinent ended in 1947. Both nuclear-armed nations claim Kashmir in its entirety and have fought wars over it.
India, which has deployed about 500,000 soldiers in the territory it controls, accuses Pakistan of arming and training Kashmiri rebel groups, but Pakistan denies the charges.
A de facto border called Line of Control (LoC) divides Kashmir, where an outbreak of insurgency on the Indian side – known as Jammu and Kashmir state – has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s. A majority of the fatalities have been civilians.
Last month, the two nations said they had reached a rare ceasefire after months of lobbing artillery shells across the heavily fortified LoC, but the Indian government suspended that truce last week following a surge of violence.
In its first-ever report on the state of human rights in Kashmir, the United Nations on June 14 slammed the two countries for alleged abuses in areas they rule and called for a major investigation into such violations.
India’s central government took direct control of Indian Kashmir on Wednesday, a day after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out of a state coalition ruling the region.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind approved a request sought by Jammu and Kashmir state Gov. Narinder Nath Vohra to place Indian Kashmir under governor’s rule – or direct control by the central government based in New Delhi – for six months, officials said.
This marked the fourth time in a decade that New Delhi has placed Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir under governor’s rule, in which the state assembly is suspended or dissolved.