Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander Abu Ismail, alleged to have masterminded the attack on Amarnath yatra pilgrims on 10 July, was killed by security forces in Srinagar on Thursday along with another Pakistan-based terrorist, police said.
The two were gunned down after a brief encounter in the Nowgam sector that saw the duo trying to flee.
According to a Firstpost report citing a senior police official, a recently arrested militant had revealed information about the Amarnath Yatra attack mastermind's plans for another attack. This information was used to trap the LeT militant.
"The police had previous information that Ismail was planning a big attack and that is how he was killed," a police official told Firstpost.
In a somewhat different version, India Today says Indian forces managed to track the cellphone number of Ismail's aide, which was used to trap the two.
"On specific information, a joint operation was launched in Aribagh in Nowgam area on the outskirts of Srinagar city. It was around 4:15 pm that a contact was established with the two hiding terrorists in a house there. In a very brief encounter, both the terrorists were killed," Kashmir Inspector General of Police Munir Khan said.
He was addressing a joint press conference along with general officer commanding of the Army's Victor Force, Major General B S Raju, and Inspector General of the Central Reserve Police Force Ravideep Singh Sahi.
Khan said the other terrorist has been identified as Abu Qasim alias Chota Qasim.
"The bodies of the slain terrorists have been kept at the appropriate place for appropriate disposal," he said.
The IGP said two AK rifles, UBGLs and other material were recovered from them.
He said Ismail was involved in 15 cases, including the 10 July attack on a bus carrying Amarnath pilgrims in south Kashmir's Anantnag district which left eight yatris dead.
"After the elimination of Abu Dujana, he (Ismail) had taken over as the chief of LeT in the Valley. He was involved in around 15 criminal cases in the valley which included murder, dacoities and other militancy related incidents. I compliment our teams for executing a wonderful operation with no collateral damage," Khan said.
"The day they (militants) killed yatris, the people said that they should be brought to justice and today they have been brought to justice. It is a great success for the security forces. A chapter of these terrorists has been closed. Tomorrow will be a new day for us. We will start our work afresh.
"When the attack took place, there was total condemnation of the act committed by terrorists from all sections of the society and people said loud and clear that these killers must be killed. So, from that day onwards, these killers were our targets and our teams - whether they be police, army or the CRPF - were looking for them," he said.
He thanked the people for "expressing that sentiment that time because that was against Kashmiriyat. No Kashmiri liked that".
Asked whether all the militants behind the attack have been neutralised, the IGP said, "One foreign and one local terrorist are left."
He said Ismail was an "A++" category militant while Qasim was "A+" category, but refused to share further details of the operation.
"It is better not to ask such questions because they are operational details which we do not want to divulge. It is not that whole militancy has been wiped out by their killing. So, it is better not to divulge the details," he said.
Khan said the priority of the security forces is to neutralise the militant leadership in the valley.
"Militant leadership is important to be neutralised. That has to be eliminated because they not only are militants but also provoke and motivate children. The priority is to neutralise the militant leadership. You know who are the leaders and they will be our next target," he said.
He, however, said, "We have a long way to go and we will keep on trying."
Maj Gen Raju said Ismail's killing is extremely important because he was responsible for the death of about 14 security forces personnel and eight civilians.
"This success is also important because we are expecting vacuum in the foreign terrorists' leadership of the LeT. After the death of Abu Qasim, then Abu Dujana and now Ismail. In between, we also killed (Abu) Ali. Now, we are looking at a serious deficiency in their leadership which should give us more opportunities," he said.
Seen as an aggressive terrorist by observers, Ismail always made it a point not to come in direct contact with Kashmiris to avoid getting caught and used local terrorists in his group to contact their on-ground workers (OGWs).
His group included 8 to 9 men comprising local and foreign terrorists. They were quite active on the national highway connecting Srinagar with South Kashmir.