World News

Escaped Militant Leader, 21, Is Shot Dead in Kashmir

Posted November 28, 2018 11:48 a.m. EST

SRINAGAR, Kashmir — Indian security forces on Wednesday killed one of the most wanted Kashmiri militants, a young fighter who had escaped from police custody earlier this year and was accused of later assassinating a prominent newspaper editor.

According to police officials, Naveed Jatt was cornered in a small house that was being used as a hideout, and shot dead after a gunbattle.

Jatt, 21, was like a legend in the Kashmir Valley, a territory that both India and Pakistan claim.

Born in Pakistan, he was pudgy and about 5 1/2 feet tall — his nickname was “Shorty.” He was known to be intelligent, charismatic and extremely brutal.

In February, Jatt, while in police custody, persuaded officers that he was sick and needed taking to a government hospital. Minutes after he arrived, two militants already positioned in the hospital shot and killed his guards, and Jatt sped away on a motorcycle. It was one of the most dramatic jail breaks in recent Kashmiri memory.

Jatt, though young, was the senior leader of a Pakistan-based militant group. Police officials said he planned the assassination of Shujaat Bukhari, a respected Kashmiri journalist known as a strong voice for peace.

According to police, Jatt was the one who pulled the trigger on Bukhari as he was walking out of his newspaper office on a warm June evening.

“He was not like any other terrorist,” said Swayam Prakash Pani, a top police official in Kashmir. Over the years, he said, Jatt had killed many people, tortured informants and organized terror attacks.

Kashmir, a stunningly beautiful valley in the Himalayas, has been in crisis for years. Much of the area is controlled by India; Pakistan administers a smaller slice, and a dwindling band of militants has been fighting for independence.

This year police seem to be winning. Officials said at least 225 militants have been killed since the beginning of the year, the largest death toll of insurgents in a decade. Most have been methodically hunted down and have refused to give up when cornered, dying in a hail of bullets.

The insurgents enjoy wide support. As soon of the news of Jatt’s death broke across the valley, protests erupted, prompting the Indian government to shut down internet service on mobile phones.

Police officers said Jatt had tortured civilians he suspected of working with police. One officer said he could kill with his bare hands.

Still, he was so revered by young men in the valley that whenever he made quick visits to funerals or protests, the crowds would become ecstatic and carry him on their shoulders.

Police say he crossed from Pakistan into the Indian-administered part of Kashmir in 2012. He was arrested in 2014 and interrogated many times — that is, until he escaped.

On Wednesday, police officials asked Pakistan to take his body. Analysts doubted Pakistan would actually do that. Instead, they said, Jatt would probably end up, like hundreds of other militants, buried in an unmarked grave.