May 27 (UPI) — A popular militant commander and a lieutenant were killed by Indian security forces in Kashmir on Saturday, touching off violent anti-government protests.
Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, 27, the leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen military group, and an associate were killed by government troops after militants instigated a gun fight with security forces Friday night in the town of Tral. Officials said the militants took refuge in nearby homes, prompting a ground search to hunt them down. Bhat and the other man were killed during that operation.
As news of his death spread throughout the region, locals began protesting government troops, eventually pelting them with rocks as they tried to regain control of the area.
Bhat was the successor and childhood friend of Burhan Wani, a homegrown militia leader who achieved folk hero status in Indian-administered Kashmir for standing up to what some view as overly aggressive military operations by the Indian government in the disputed territory. Wani was killed by government forces last summer, touching off weeks of violent protests that left more than 70 people dead.
In the wake of Saturday’s violence, the Indian government reinstituted a ban on mobile Internet usage that had briefly been lifted in Kashmir in a bid to prevent the spread of cellphone videos from the Tral protests.