According to officials, a mosque in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir witnessed the fatal shooting of a former Kashmiri militant on Friday, marking the third such targeted killing this year, as declared by a prominent Islamist guerrilla leader.
The picturesque region of Kashmir is a subject of full territorial claims from nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. However, it is only partially controlled by these two countries, who have been engaged in conflicts and hostilities over the region since 1947, including two wars.
India has long accused Pakistan of supporting Islamist militant groups seeking Kashmiri independence, while Pakistan denies these allegations and accuses India of backing separatist insurgents within its territory.
The incident occurred in Rawalakot, a town located 130 kilometers south of Muzaffarabad, Pakistani Kashmir’s capital, near the de facto border with India. Muhammad Riaz, also known as Abu Qasim Kashmiri, was fatally shot by an unidentified assailant within a mosque, as reported by the local police. The attacker, wearing a motorcycle helmet, fired four shots at Riaz, according to the prayer leader at the scene. The investigation into the incident is ongoing.
Originally hailing from the Surankot region of Indian-controlled Kashmir, Riaz reportedly migrated to the Pakistani side in the 1990s. Locals were aware of his association with Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a charitable organization linked to the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which India has accused of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai attack that claimed the lives of 166 people. A spokesperson for JuD did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
In a related development from the previous year, Pakistan accused India of orchestrating a bombing near the residence of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of JuD and LeT, an accusation that India denied.
Sardar Rizwan Hanif, a Jammu Kashmir United Movement member, told Reuters from Rawalakot that Riaz was targeted due to his association with the cause of Kashmiri independence and that he was a wanted individual in India.
Syed Salahuddin, the leader of the Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, condemned Riaz’s killing.
This incident marks the third such targeted killing in Pakistan this year. In February, Bashir Ahmed Peer, known as Imtiyaz Alam, a former commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in Rawalpindi. Syed Khalid Raza, 55, was also killed in Karachi, with the police characterizing it as a deliberate attack. While working as an educator, Raza was reportedly a former commander of the Al Badr Mujahideen group, which operated in Indian Kashmir.