SRINAGAR : A 35 year old trader became the latest casualty of a murderous spree in the restive Sopore town of Jammu and Kashmir where 'unknown' gunmen, despite heightened presence of security forces, shot dead four people in a week's time.

Aijaz Ahmad Reshi, a resident of Mandji in Sopore, was shot multiple times when gunmen, believed to be two in number, reportedly surfaced outside his shop in Mandji on Handwara road in Sopore at around 8:30 am Monday.

"Aijaz was outside the shop when the assailants fired at him from a close range. By the time police arrived at the spot, he had already been evacuated by locals to a hospital where he died," eyewitnesses said.

Anguished residents of Sopore, who have been terrorised by the spate of killings, have started pouring in at Aijaz's residence, who is survived by his wife, Kulsuma, four kids including three daughters, father, Abdul Rahim Reshi and mother.

Sources said the deceased had no links with any separatist group or militants but his grandfather was associated with Jama'at-e-Islami in Sopore, which remains a hotbed of pro-freedom and anti-India sentiment in the Valley.

This is the fourth killing in Sopore in a week's time by unknown gunmen who have killed people with firearms and managed to escape unscathed in broad daylight, despite heightened presence of security forces in the town.

Since the cycle of killings began in May, seven people have been killed in north Kashmir.

A former militant, Meraj-ud-Din Dar, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Sopore on Sunday morning while on June 12, a trade union leader Khursheed Ahmad was shot dead in Bomai area of the Apple Town.

An activist of Syed Ali Geelani's Tehreek-e-Hurriyat was also shot dead by gunmen in the town last week.

The killings have been linked by the Hurriyat parties as well as the opposition National Conference to the disclosure of Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar at a function in New Delhi that "terrorists will be used to kill terrorists" in J&K.

In a massive rally in Srinagar's Lal Chowk on Saturday, Omar Abdullah, while hitting out at the Centre, attributed the killings in Sopore to Parrikar's statement.

"The Defence Minister says that militants will be used to kill militants. Do they want to revive Ikhwan in Kashmir? Since the statement came, look what is happening in Sopore. Someone is being killed there regularly. This is because of this government," he said.

Although the security agencies in the state have blamed Lashkar-e-Islam, a 'splinter group' of Pakistan-based Hizbul Mujahideen for the killings, no arrests have been made in any of the killings.

The J&K Police claims that the militants are killing people in the town in order to avenge the loss of a 'repeater' device that they used to escape surveillance during wireless communication, a theory which has few takers in Sopore.

Syed Ali Geelani's Tehreek-e-Hurriyat as well as the Hizb have also alleged that Lashkar-e-Islam is a "creation of Indian agencies" to "defame the freedom struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir."