SRINAGAR: A top Hizbul Mujahideen militant, believed to be behind last year's attacks on telecom installations in Kashmir Valley, was killed in an encounter with government forces yesterday in Kupwara.

According to officials, a joint team of the Army, Special Operations Group and paramilitary troopers laid a cordon in Nagri area near Drugmulla of north Kashmir's Kupwara following specific information about the presence of militants inside a residential house.

"As the team started search operations, the militants hiding in the house showered a barrage of gunfire on the forces, sparking the encounter during which one militant was killed", a senior police officer said, adding that a Chinese pistol and other ammunition was recovered from his possession.

The slain militant was later identified as Sameer Ahmad Wani alias Jan, a resident of Dooru in Sopore, who reportedly was the divisional commander of Hizbul Mujahideen for north Kashmir.

According to police, the Hizb commander was allegedly involved in last year's attacks on communication towers in Kashmir Valley.

"He was wanted for his involvement in dozens of attacks on forces in Kashmir. He had also masterminded strikes on mobile towers and their owners in the Valley last year," police said.

The attacks on cell phone towers were claimed by a little-known militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Islam which the separatists had claimed was the 'creation of Indian agencies'. Police, however, said the group was set up by Qayoom Najar, who is absconding as an offshoot of Hizbul Mujahideen.

The Hizbul Mujahideen had then denied any involvement and blamed security agencies for the attacks that disrupted cellphone services in parts of the Kashmir Valley for nearly two weeks.

Hizbul Mujahideen chief, Syed Salahuddin, who also heads United Jihad Council, a conglomerate of over dozen militant outfits based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, paid tributes to the slain militant in a statement.

"Kashmiris are filled with love for their land who are always ready to make any kind of sacrifices. The attack on Pathankot airbase, Bijbehara, Pampore, Kupwara and Drugmulla amply prove that militants have potential to smack Indian forces,” he said.

Meanwhile, as soon as the news of Sameer's death spread in his native village, agitated youths, shouting anti-India and pro-freedom slogans, hit the streets following which protests erupted in the area.

Eyewitnesses said youths pelted stones at forces and also torched a police vehicle. "At least a dozen people including police personnel were injured in clashes reported from Shiva, Natnussa, Dooru, Nagri, Kawardi and other areas of north Kashmir," police said.

(File picture)