Indian troops kill rebel commander in Kashmir's main city

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A Kashmiri man douses a fire in a house which was damaged in a gun-battle in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Indian government forces killed two rebels in disputed Kashmir on Tuesday and shut down cellphone and mobile internet services during subsequent anti-India protests, officials and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

SRINAGAR – A rebel commander and his aide were killed in a gunbattle with government forces in Kashmir's main city on Tuesday, officials said, triggering anti-India protests and clashes in the disputed region.

Scores of counterinsurgency police and paramilitary soldiers cordoned off a congested neighborhood in Srinagar's old quarters on a tip that some militants were hiding there, said Pankaj Singh, a paramilitary spokesman. An exchange of gunfire began as troops scoured the area looking for militants, he said.

The gunbattle, the first in the city in two years, lasted about 12 hours and ended with the killing of Junaid Ashraf Sehrai, a militant commander with Kashmir’s largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, and his aide. Junaid, son of senior separatist political leader Mohammed Ashraf Sehrai, joined the rebel ranks in early 2018 after graduating in business management from the region’s main university.

Three soldiers and a police official were injured in the fighting, police said.

Over a dozen houses were damaged, some completely destroyed, during the fighting as explosions and gunshots rattled the city during a tight coronavirus lockdown.

Residents accused troops of setting the houses on fire and looting jewelry and cash from some homes. Singh said these were “baseless allegations to malign troops.”

“It was a clean operation with no collateral damage,” he said.

Security officials said Junaid’s killing was a major success against militants in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both in its entirety.