SRINAGAR : A separatist activist, affiliated with Syed Ali Geelani's Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, was shot dead Tuesday morning by unknown gunmen in the restive Sopore town.

A spontaneous shutdown is being observed in the town against the killing with all the business establishments, educational institutions and government offices shut while public transport remains off the roads.

The killing, first of its kind in Kashmir Valley in recent times, was blamed by the family of the slain as well as Geelani on 'Indian agencies'.

Deputy Inspector General of Police(DIG) (North), Gharib Dass, said Sheikh Altaf-ur-Rehman, 45, who worked as a pharmacist at Sopore sub-district hospital, had come out of the premises at around 10:45 am, reportedly to attend a phone call, when the suspects fired shots at him from a close range.

"He had suffered lethal firearm injuries in his chest and head, and died on the spot. We have registered a case and investigations are going on," Dass told The Citizen.

The slain is survived by his wife, aged father, who headed socio-political organisation, Jama'at-i-Islami, in Sopore, for many years, and four children, all of whom are below 15 years of age.

Thousands of people attended the funeral prayers following which he was laid to eternal rest in the martyrs graveyard of Sopore.

As soon as the news spread in the town on Tuesday, large groups of people hit the streets, chanting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, and demanded an inquiry.

Geelani, who is arguably the most prominent Hurriyat leader in the Valley, blamed "secret agencies" for the killing.

"There is a hand of the Indian secret agencies behind the killing of Sheikh Altaf,” he said in a statement, “and by this way, they actually want to frighten and terrorise the people who are on the forefront of the freedom struggle of Kashmir.”

The octogenarian Hurriyat hawk linked the killing to the statement of Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that 'terrorists will be used to kill terrorists', "A process of mysterious killings has started here which resulted in the loss of many precious human lives in a short span of time," Geelani said.

Tehreek-e-Hurriyat spokesperson, Ayaz Akbar said Altaf was a working member of the group and he has spent around seven years of life in jail.

"His brother, Sheikh Rouf Ahmad, was killed by armed forces in Batwara when he was returning home from Aligarh Muslim University where he was a student," Akbar said.

He said the Hurriyat had already expressed fears that its leadership might be targeted in the Valley, "We had received inputs about possible attacks on Hurriyat leaders by Indian agencies. The process seems to have started with the killing of Altaf," Akbar said.

Moderate Hurriyat led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq condemned the killing. In a statement, Mirwaiz said that the killing of innocent people is 'inhuman' and 'condemnable'.

"The Hurriyat has offered condolences and expressed solidarity with the bereaved family," the statement said.

The mainstream political camp, which had previously issued statements of condemnation on the attacks and killings, preferred to stay silent on the Tuesday's incident in Sopore.

The killing comes in the backdrop of a spate of attacks on mobile installations in the Valley by an unknown group, Lashkar-i-Islam, which the Hurriyat had alleged was the 'creation of Indian agencies'. Two people were killed and four others injured in a series of attacks, mostly in Sopore town, following which the mobile services were crippled in the Valley.

Hizbul Mujahideen, which backs Geelani's Hurriyat, said it will ‘not spare’ the killers of Sheikh Altaf. In a statement, Salim Hashmi, spokesperson of the outfit, quoting Hizb chief, Syed Salahuddin, said the killing of Sheikh Altaf is a 'sheepish act of Indian agencies'.

"Altaf was a true soldier of freedom struggle ... a responsible leader of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. Anti-freedom forces are making plots to create confusion in Sopore, the epicentre of freedom struggle and the murder of Sheikh Altaf is part of this conspiracy," he said.