Srinagar: A year ago, Habibullah Yatoo, a father of seven, mourned the death of his eldest son Yaseen who, he heard, had died in an accident near some border area of Kashmir. The Yatoo family received hundreds of visitors at their home in Nagam village of Chadoora in Budgam, where the funeral prayers of Yaseen were held in absentia.
Yaseen had left for Jammu a month ago to appear in a court hearing in the winter capital. His funeral prayers in absentia were led by Tehreek-e-Hurriyat’s Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai and other pro-freedom politicians. Tributes poured in from resistance leaders and also from militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen. After six months, Habibullah’s another son was picked up by police. He was asked about Yaseen. It was then that the family learnt that Yaseen was alive, and had joined Hizb — again.
Yaseen Yatoo, a 40-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen militant, later appeared in several videos posted online, including the one where he is believed to be addressing a huge rally in south Kashmir during the 2016 unrest. Earlier this month, the militant’s latest pictures surfaced on social media networks. His hair and beard had turned grey. In one of the pictures, Yaseen was reading the Quran while an assault rifle rested beside him.
“We did not know he was alive until my younger son was called by police in June to enquire about Yaseen,” Habibullah told Reader.
According to Yaseen’s father, a former cooperative bank employee, the family is often called by police and other forces for questioning.
“They ask about my brother and urge us to bring him in,” Yaseen’s brother Abdul Rashid shared.
Habibullah says he never interfered with the choice that his eldest son had made.
Known by his nom de guerre Mansur-ul-Islam, Yaseen, who was believed to have slipped to death while carrying out an operation in a border area, is one of the longest serving militants among Hizb cadres.
He left his home for the first time in 1996, when he was a 2nd-year graduate student at Amar Singh College, his family said.
In the past 20 years, Yaseen was in and out of jail several times. He had come back home and even left militancy to join a political party.
Confirming that he is ‘alive’, a senior security official said Yaseen moves ‘extensively’. “He is mostly active in Kulgam and Budgam areas and is trying to recruit,” the official told Reader.
For police, the militant had moved across the border via Bandipora to receive arms training. He came back a year later only to ‘surrender’ a few months later, police said. He was, however, released a few months later. After a few years, Habibullah said, Yaseen started a coaching center in Chadoora area.
“But he joined militant ranks again in 2002, along with another recruit, Yaseen Rather of Kralpora,” a police official said.
A year later, Yaseen was rearrested along with an AK-47 rifle and was lodged in Central Jail for more than a year. In 2004, Yaseen was made District Commander in Hizb ranks and Rather was killed in an encounter a year later.
According to police, Yaseen was lodged under Public Safety Act (PSA) and accused of killing five civilians in 2005.
In 2015, he was released again in April. Thereafter he took part in protests following which he was arrested in October under PSA,the police said.
“He had left militancy and joined Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. Even we thought he was too old to join militant ranks again,” Habibullah said.
On December 20, 2015, when Yaseen left his home for Jammu, he never came back.
His father said that when he first left 20 years ago, he wrote home letters until he came back. “But, this time, we don’t know anything. We even presumed him dead for six months,” Habibullah said.