According to Indian officials, Pakistani commander of banned terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) Abu Dujana, along with his aide Arif Nabi Dar, were killed after engaging in a lengthy gun battle Tuesday morning with government troops in Kashmir's Pulwama district, 35 kilometers south of the capital Srinagar.
"Abu Dujana was the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief for Kashmir ... a category A plus, plus, terrorist," said senior Indian army official JS Sandhu during a press conference. "This is a blow to the LeT leadership," Sandhu added.
A civilian was also killed while several others were injured in the crossfire during the encounter between security forces and the terrorists who were holed up inside a house.
The police blamed the civilian death on the tactics deployed by the militants. "The people, on the behest of these militants, maybe (through) coercion or threatening (behavior), they tend to come between the operating parties, and that's how they get injured or killed," said Munir Khan, Inspector General of Jammu and Kashmir Police.
Following a tip-off, security forces launched a search operation in an area believed to be sheltering Dujana at around 8am Tuesday morning. The search party then came under fire from the militants, according to police.
"We tried and tried hard to make them (militants) surrender....They started firing. The quantum of firing from their side was very heavy. It was retaliated and both were neutralized," said Khan.
The killing of Dujana, who according to police was involved in several attacks in Kashmir, triggered widespread protests Tuesday, as locals took to the streets to hurl stones at Indian security forces and chant anti-India slogans. At least one protestor was killed and dozens of others injured as the police responded with force to the outbreak of unrest.
Dr Nazir Ahmed Chaudhary, medical superintendent of SMHS hospital in Srinagar, told CNN most injured protestors admitted in their facility had suffered bullet and pellet-related injuries. Three people including two hospital employees were also injured when the security forces tried to control a mob outside a local hospital in Kashmir's Pulwama, according to the hospital superintendent Dr Abdul Rasid Parra.
While India has long blamed LeT for terrorist attacks such as the coordinated attacks in Mumbai in 2008, LeT has also fomented and encouraged the idea of Kashmiri independence, and garnered widespread support among many of the region's young.
According to the police, Dujana was responsible for planning various armed attacks on Indian security convoys, including an attack in Udhampur in 2015, that killed two security personnel.
In repose to the violence, schools and colleges were closed and access to the internet was suspended. According to Human Rights Watch, Indian authorities shut off the internet in Kashmir more than 30 times in 2016 in an attempt to quell organized protests and bouts of unrest.
Dujana's killing—and the resulting protests and crackdowns—have echoes of another such incident one year ago, when a commander of the Kashmiri separatist group Hizbul Mujahideen was shot dead. Burhan Wani was seen as a popular rallying figure, and his death triggered months of unrest, with more than 90 people killed and thousands injured in the ensuing violence. Dujana is seen as popular among some Kashmiri locals especially the young, although not to the same degree as Burhan Wani.
Kashmir has been in the throes of separatist violence since 1989. More than 42,000 lives have been consumed by the violence as per the official count and double the figure according to rights groups and nongovernmental organizations.