By Tariq Maqbool
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan-administered Kashmir (Reuters) – A former Kashmiri militant was gunned down in a mosque in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, officials said on Friday, in what a top Islamist guerrilla leader termed a “targeted killing” – the third such death this year.
Scenic Kashmir is claimed in full, but controlled only in part, by nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, which have fought two wars and engaged in numerous clashes over the region since 1947.
India has for decades accused Pakistan of supporting Islamist militants groups fighting for Kashmiri independence. Pakistan denies that and accuses India of supporting separatist rebels in Pakistan.
Police said Muhammad Riaz, also known as Abu Qasim Kashmiri, was shot dead by an “unknown” person at a mosque in Rawalakot, a town 130 kilometres south of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, and close the de facto border with India.
Shehryar Sikandar, a senior police official in the area, said the prayer leader told police the assailant shot Riaz four times while wearing a motorcycle helmet. He said the investigation was ongoing.
Riaz originally belonged to the Surankot area of Indian-controlled Kashmir and reportedly migrated to the Pakistani side in the 1990s.
He was known by locals to be associated with Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a charity organisation linked with militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which India says orchestrated the 2008 attack on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed.
A spokesman for JuD did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Last year, Pakistan accused India of orchestrating a bombing near the house of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of a JuD and LeT. India denied that.
Sardar Rizwan Hanif, a member of Jammu Kashmir United Movement, told Reuters from Rawalakot that Riaz was killed “for his association with the freedom of his motherland.”
He said Riaz was wanted in India.
In a statement, Syed Salahuddin, the leader of Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, decried Riaz’s killing.
Riaz’s death is the third such incident this year in Pakistan.
In February, Bashir Ahmed Peer, alias Imtiyaz Alam, a former commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, was gunned down in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Syed Khalid Raza, 55, was killed in the port city of Karachi in what police described as a targeted attack. Raza, working as an educationist, was said to be a former commander of Al Badr Mujahideen group that also operated in Indian Kashmir.
(Reporting by Tariq Maqbool in Muzaffarabad; Editing by Gibran Peshimam and Hugh Lawson)