Hizbul Mujahideen commander Reyaz Naikoo
Hizbul Mujahideen commander Reyaz Naikoo

Srinagar: In a major breakthrough, top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Reyaz Naikoo, on the run for eight years, was killed on Wednesday by security forces in his village in Pulwama district. 32-year-old Naikoo, who carried a reward of Rs 12 lakh on his head, had slipped out of the police dragnet thrice. Giving details of the operation, officials said security forces zeroed in on Naikoo's hideout on Tuesday.

But instead of launching an operation immediately, they fortified their cordon in the area and plugged all escape routes, so that the most wanted militant did not escape this time as well. With Naikoo’s killing, operation 'Jackboot,' conceived and supervised by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, has claimed its last high value target.

The operation was intended to tackle the menace of home-spun militancy which had become the new pasture for many educated, unemployed Kashmiri youth, their imagination fired by Burhan Wani, the poster boy of militancy in the Valley, in July 2016. Naikoo had become the de facto chief of the terror group after the death of Wani.

Operation Jackboot claimed its victims with surgical precision. Much in the style of 'Operation Wrath of God' of Israeli secret agency Mossad, launched against the PLO after the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics, Doval personally wrote the obituary of each of his targets. After the elimination of Burhan, Hizbul desperately needed a local face who could replace him and become the new poster boy of homegrown militancy.

None was better than Naikoo to fill the void. Incidentally, he was a schoolteacher and known to be some sort of a mathematical wizard. His other indulgence was paining – mostly roses. Naikoo saved the Hizbul from complete disintegration when Zakir Musa split from the group in 2017. The killing has come as a major relief also because Naikoo was a master propagandist.

Taking over the spoils after Musa left, Naikoo launched a massive campaign asking J&K policemen to give up their jobs and join the Hizbul ranks. He also urged terrorists to stage gun salutes at the funeral of terrorists. He also planned abduction of families of police officers.

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