Math teacher to Hizb operations chief: Riyaz Naikoo Killed

wilayattimes (Jammu and Kashmir)

Srinagar:Hizbul Mujahideen operational commander Riyaz Naikoo and his associate Adil Ahmad alias Dr.Saifullah were killed during an encounter with security forces in South Kashmir’s Awantipora village.

Not many outside the Valley had heard of Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo, the 35-year-old operational commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen who was killed in an encounter with security forces in South Kashmir’s Awantipora not until three years ago.

In August 2017, a year after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, security forces gunned down his successor, Yasin Itoo alias Mehmood Ghaznavi, in Shopian.

In disarray, the militant outfit turned to Naikoo, naming him chief of its operations in the Valley with the additional task of regrouping its ranks.

Under Naikoo who now went by the name of Mohammad bin Qasim, the Hizb soon returned to the centrestage of militancy in the Valley and he showed up on the radar of every security agency.

He quickly became one of the most wanted militants and the government announced a cash reward of Rs 12 lakh for any information leading to him.

Riyaz Naikoo, the top Hizbul Mujahideen operational chief who had never been caught, has been killed by security forces in a joint operation in his south Kashmir’s village on Wednesday. Naikoo had come to meet his family on Tuesday and stayed overnight at a hideout in Awantipora’s Beighbora village. This was home turf.

The 35-year-old, also known by his alias Zubair ul Islam and Bin Qasim, was counted among Kashmir’s most-experienced militants. On 5 June, Riyaz Naikoo would have completed eight years in the Hizbul Mujahideen, a rarity in a career where many don’t last for more than a few years. Security forces had come close to cornering him on several occasions; he managed to dodge them every time.

But on Tuesday, Kashmir Police’s anti-militancy unit Special Operations Group (SOG) had pinpointed information about his movements. He was going to be in his village to meet his family and relatives. According to one account, the SOG had an idea where he would stay overnight.

So, who was the elusive Riyaz Naikoo?

The son of a tailor of Beighpora village in Awantipora in south Kashmir, Naikoo acquired a degree in mathematics and taught the subject at a local school. Village residents remember him as a teacher popular among students.

But on June 1, 2012, the math teacher disappeared — his family alleged he was harassed and beaten by police. And when he resurfaced, he was cradling a gun. In the next five years, he rose up the Hizb ranks and was ready when the call came to take up the outfit’s operations in the Valley following the killing of Yasin Itoo.

Naikoo’s elevation was also nudged by a churning within the militant outfit. When Hizb commander Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Zakir Musa swore allegiance to the al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and announced that he wanted to establish an Islamic caliphate, he pitted himself against the separatist leadership.

Riyaz Naikoo began uploading photographs of militant recruits on social media, “welcomed the return of Pandits to Kashmir” and described Amarnath pilgrims as “guests”. 

The Hizb fielded Naikoo as a “moderate” face with the instruction that he keep its ranks intact because a split seemed inevitable after Zakir Musa’s decision to part ways. Naikoo managed to not only keep the militant flock intact but also revived the Hizb.

His pro-Pakistan leanings, oration skills and motivating young men into picking up guns soon made him a divisional commander of the Hizb. He also won the trust of its UJC chief Syed Salah-ud-din.

Naikoo began uploading photographs of militant recruits on social media, “welcomed the return of Pandits to Kashmir” and described Amarnath pilgrims as “guests”. He also began the practice of offering gun salutes to militants killed in gunbattles.

In 2018, he rattled the security establishment when he ordered the abduction of the family members of J&K police officers — in retaliation for the detention of his father, Assadullah Naikoo (70), by police. Within hours, over a dozen family members of policemen were kidnapped by militants from across south Kashmir. The police later released his father and the kin of policemen returned home.

The authorities snapped mobile internet services across Kashmir to prevent law and order situation in the wake of an encounter at Awantipore where top militant commander trapped

Chief of Hizbul Mujahideen and Supreme Commander of United Jihad Council, Syed Salahuddin while paying glowing tributes to Operational Commander Riyaz Naikoo and Adil Ahmad has said that the reign of oppression unleashed in Kashmir will end, one day.

Syed Salahuddin while addressing a meeting in Muzaffarabad said that Naikoo and Adil sacrificed their lives for the sacred cause.Blood of great martyrs would not go waste and the day was not far when the  oppression would come to an end in occupied Kashmir.(IE)