Shopian: In a major setback to Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, four of its longest surviving category A++ militants were killed within a few hours in Shopian district, which because of these militants has emerged as a militancy hotbed in the past few years.
Saddam Paddar, Bilal Ahmad Mohand, Adil Ahmad Malik, and Tawseef Sheikh were all way up in the Hizb hierarchy and considered to be “most wanted” by the government’s security agencies. Saddam had joined the Hizb in 2014 when Burhan Wani held the reins of the outfit.
As per sources, Saddam was closely associated with Burhan and for a few years operated from wherever Wani did – mostly Tral in those days.
“Following the killing of Wani, Saddam shifted base to Shopian and had since escalated up the ranks to become a commander,” a source in the police told Kashmir Reader.
Saddam belonged to Heff village of Shopian district, a few kilometers from where he was killed today.
His family is well-to-do and influential, owner of several orchards. Saddam was the eldest among four siblings.
His popularity among the people could be sensed from the tens of thousands that came to Sheff to get a last glimpse of him. People walked miles – amid protests, firing, pellets, blockades by government forces and lashing rains – to reach Heff.
“I have never seen such a gathering in my life,” a childhood friend of Saddam said. “I was almost suffocated near the podium where Saddam’s body was kept. I had to move out to breathe a little.”
The mourners who thronged Tral included elderly women and children, babies being carried by their mothers, all unmindful of the danger, the mud-filled slippery roads, and the continuous rainfall.
“He was a hero in the real sense. I feel I have lost a son and a protector. With him around we felt protected,” one of the mourners, an elderly man, told Kashmir Reader.
A senior police official said that Saddam had been a huge galvanising force for the Hizb. “He has recruited dozens of young boys, luring them with his charm. In the recent past the uptick in youth joining Hizb can be associated with Saddam and his charisma. He did the recruitment almost singlehandedly, as per my sources on ground,” the official said.
The body of Bilal Mohand, a man in his late thirties, was also kept along with that of Saddam’s.
Also a resident of Heff, Bilal had joined militant ranks in October 2016. Pictures of Bilal – sleeping in his mother’s lap in one and his daughter kissing his gun in the other – had gone viral over social media some time back.
Bilal was also called Maulvi for his religious inclination and was widely respected in the area, well before he joined militant ranks.
Adil Ahmad Malik was also a long surviving militant and had joined the outfit around the same time when Saddam did. A resident of Malik Gund area in Shopian district, Adil was described as a category A++ militant by the agencies. He has been associated, according to government forces, with many attacks in the area.
Tawseef Sheikh, the fourth militant, belonged to Rampura area of Kulgam district. Sheikh was a young boy when he joined militants in 2013.
“He operated mainly from Kulgam district and his being trapped in Shopian today came as a surprise to many of us,” a source told Kashmir Reader.
Sheikh belonged to a “family of militants”. The family has a history of producing militants and there has been not even a single year since the early nineties when the family did not have a member within militant ranks.
Sheikh’s brother Asif was also a militant and was killed some years back.
One of Hizb’s senior most commanders, Abbas Sheikh, is the maternal uncle of Tawseef Sheikh.
“Also, Abbas Sheikh’s two brothers have been militants and killed – one in the nineties and another in the latter part of the decade gone by,” a police source said.
People following the developments in south Kashmir said that Hizb will take a while before coming to terms with this loss. “Yes, the recruitment will be intensified but to fill the void created by killing of senior operatives within militant ranks is never easy,” a police official said.
He said that efforts will definitely be made to cash in on the situation. Moreover, he said, the recent spurt in killing of militants, including of Sameer Tiger, will also be a matter of worry for the Hizb.