The 32-year-old Riyaz Naikoo, also known by his alias Zubair ul Islam and Bin Qasim, was counted among Kashmir’s most-experienced terrorists.

SRINAGAR: Riyaz Naikoo, the top Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist who had never been caught, has been gunned down 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 32-year-old, also known by his alias Zubair ul Islam and Bin Qasim, was counted among Kashmir’s most-experienced terrorists. 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.

It was getting dark by the time a large contingent of Jammu and Kashmir police and the 21 Rashtriya Rifles started surrounding the village. “And then, they lay low, waiting for dawn to make the move,” a senior police officer said.

A gun battle erupted early on Wednesday.

He had been trapped in the house and there was no way to escape.

When the firefight was over, security personnel found Riyaz Naikoo in a bunker from where he had been firing at them. He and his associates had died of gunshot wounds.

“It is a major success for the security forces in Kashmir,” a senior Jammu and Kashmir Police officer told Hindustan Times. J&K police chief Dilbag Singh had been monitoring the entire operation that the police insisted could break the back of the Hizbul Mujahideen in south Kashmir.

In the records of Jammu and Kashmir police, Riaz Naikoo was listed as “A++” terrorist who had a reward of Rs 1.2 million on his head. According to his dossier, he had studied till class 10 at the Beighpora government high school, cleared his Class 12 from the higher secondary school in Gulzarpora and graduation from the government degree college in Pulwama.

He took up a private teacher’s job in Hanfia Model Public School a couple of kilometres away in 2010. It is around this time that he first started helping out the Hizbul before going missing on 5 June 2012 to join the Hizbul at the instance of Sajad Mir, who was later killed.

Over the next four years, he climbed the Hizbul hierarchy and came to the attention of the Hizbul boss in Pakistan Syed Salahuddin. After Zakir Musa took over the Hizbul in Kashmir following the killing of Burhan Wani and had differences with its leadership in Pakistan, Riyaz Naikoo stayed on Syed Salahuddin’s right side and became the de facto chief of Hizbul in Kashmir.

The Hizbul mostly operates in south Kashmir districts of Kulgam, Shopian and Anantnag and Pulwama. This part of Kashmir has traditionally been seen as the hotbed of homegrown terror fuelled from across the Line of Control.