Indian officials say government forces killed a top rebel commander, his aide and two other militants in gun battles in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Wednesday.
Riyaz Naikoo, 35, was the chief of operations of Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest separatist group in the disputed Himalayan region that has led an armed rebellion against Indian rule.
Naikoo was the group's top commander for almost eight years and was responsible for recruiting dozens of Kashmiris to fight against India, according to officials.
After receiving intelligence that Naikoo and other militant commanders were hiding in a village late Tuesday, hundreds of Indian soldiers descended on the area.
While conducting a house-to-house search, government forces were attacked by rebels, police said. Officials said Naikoo and an associate were later found trapped in a house and killed in a gun battle. Two militants were also killed in another gun battle nearby.
Authorities disabled mobile internet access across the Kashmir region in anticipation of large crowds gathering to mourn Naikoo’s death and protest India's action in the region.
Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan, has sparked two of the three wars between the two nations, and it continues to be the primary source of tensions in bilateral ties.
Tensions have escalated particularly since August 2019 when India unilaterally revoked the decades-old constitutionally enshrined semi-autonomous status of the two-thirds of the disputed territory it administers.