Why was Abbas Sheikh the most wanted militant of Kashmir?

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The killing of Mohammad Abbas Sheikh, the key militant commander of The Resistance Front (TRF) and architect of its many high-profile attacks, is a major setback to the region’s insurgency which has been battered by successful counter-insurgency operations in recent years. 

Abbas was a potent militant commander with nearly two decades of experience on his side and tact to melt away among the population.

Sheikh, who was previously associated with the Hizbul Mujahideen outfit, was now the chief of TRF – a new outfit that emerged post-August 2019 in Kashmir. Police have been claiming that the TRF is a shadow outfit of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Sheikh was killed today evening in a brief shootout in Srinagar’s Alochi Bagh area along with Saqib Manzoor, his deputy. 

Born in Rampur village of Kulgam, Sheikh is one of the oldest militants, who recycled into militancy two times. He first joined militancy in 1996 and was arrested in 2004. After his release in 2005, he again joined militancy the same year and was arrested in 2007 again. Then released in 2011, he first worked as a tailor but again joined militancy in March 2014. Since then he had been active. In the last two years, he shifted to build TRF and focused mainly on it after exiting from Hizbul Mujahideen. 

“Abbas Sheikh was known for his ability to arrange weapons,” said a police officer, wishing anonymity. “He had enormous respect among the militants, who saw him as a spiritual leader. It was this aura of him that grew TRF so quickly and got several new recruits in less time.” 

Sheikh was among the ‘ten most wanted’ militants shared by the police this year. Among the list, the government forces have so far killed three – Abbas, Saqib and Wakil Shah, in a recent gunfight in Tral forests of south Kashmir.

In the last six years, Sheikh had escaped several times during gunfights after breaking the cordon.

“I do not think that they [older militants] have strong or different operational capability but they may have an idea of how to survive [for long]. They have the power to motivate youth [to join militancy],” a police officer with a lengthy experience in the counter-insurgency grid recently told The Kashmir Walla.

More than two dozen members of his extended family have been militants. He was the sixteenth militant from the immediate family to have been killed in a gunfight.

His sister, Naseema Bano, was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in June 2020 for facilitating militants, said the police. Her son, Touseef Sheikh, was a militant and killed in a gunfight. 

Sheikh, as per police officials, provided a key element to the insurgency: the capability to recruit and motivate, and also survive. As per sources in the police, Sheikh was instrumental in reviving militancy in Srinagar – the capital city, which saw seven new recruits within six months after being declared as a militancy free district. 

In a statement issued after the shootout, police said that it was only after Sheikh’s shifting to Srinagar city, “he motivated and recruited Saqib and 6 other youths from [the] city into terror rank. So far, 4 terrorists of [the] city have been killed in different encounters.”

The Inspector-General of Police, Vijay Kumar, called Sheikh’s killing “a big success” and said that he and his aide “were involved in recruiting youth, lobbing grenades and killing political workers and policemen in Srinagar city”.

The IGP said that the operation was carried out by ten Special Operations Group members of the police, who followed the duo in civvies. 

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