A Humble Village Boy To a ‘Dreaded’ Militant

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NAIKOO was the last major name among militants active in South Kashmir. IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar once said, that, “If we are able to kill Riyaz Naikoo, Hizb would almost be wiped out from South Kashmir”.

Naikoo had replaced Sabzar Ahmad Bhat who was killed by army in Tral in 2017 as groups commander. Sabzar had, in turn, replaced Burhan Wani as the operational chief in Kashmir.

Naikoo was considered a soft face of the Hizb in Kashmir. In 2018, after militant attacks in South Kashmir, Naikoo had reassured Amarnath Yatris that the pilgrims were guests of Kashmir and they need not worry about their safety. He had also asked for the repatriation of Pandits to Kashmir, assuring them safety and saying that the militants were not against them.

Naikoo was born to Asadullah and Zeba in Beighpora village of Awantipora tehsil in district Pulwama in April 1985. The second among a sister and three brothers, Naikoo studied at the government school in the neighbouring village of Gulzarpora, and then at the Higher Secondary School in Noorpora, according to a report by Azaan Javed in Huffpost India.

“Riyaz wanted to become an engineer but he decided to pursue his graduation in science with Mathematics as his major subject,” according to the Huffpost report. “In 12th standard he scored 464 marks out of 600,” according to his father Asadullah. “He was always the silent type and was even called upon by village elders to mitigate local disputes. After his graduation he began teaching Maths at a private school.

According to the Huffpost report “Naikoo’s parents spoke of Riyaz in the past tense, as if already reconciled to the likelihood that their son would one day die in gun battle.

In 2010, Tufail Ahmad Mattoo was killed when a tear gas shell—fired by policemen to quell a protest against the fake encounter of three civilians in Machil—struck him as he played cricket in Srinagar’s Gani memorial stadium.

Mattoo’s death triggered a fresh cycle of unrest; scores of youth were arrested by the police and Naikoo was one of them. When he was released from prison in 2012, something had changed inside the young maths teacher, Huffiest report såid.On 21 May 2012 Naikoo disappeared from home. On 6 June, the police informed Asadullah that his son had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen.

Naikoo soon figured in the list of 12 most wanted militants. In 2017 army placed him in the hit-list of 17 top militants. He carried Rs 12 lakh on head as he was declared A++ category militant.

In 2018 after police detained relatives of active militants to put pressure on them, Naikoo-led Hizb militants kidnapped 11 family members of policemen prompting the police to release his father Asadullah from their custody.

The police had picked Asadullah from his Awantipora home in south Kashmir, a day after militants had killed four policemen in Shopian. Later, in an audio message, Riyaz had warned the police of dangerous consequences if the relatives of militants were not released.

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