A top Lashkar-e-Taiba militant, Waseem Shah, believed to be the main instigator of unrest last year in south Kashmir, and his accomplice were killed in an encounter early this morning by security forces in a fire-fight in Pulwama district, police said.
During a press conference after the encounter, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir) Munir Khan said a civilian was also killed and another injured in the crossfire between the terrorists and the security forces.
Other reports however said the civilian was killed by security forces during clashes following the encounter. At least twenty protesters were injured in the clashes.
As news about the encounter spread in the area, announcements were made through mosque public address systems asking people to come out and stage protests. Protesters from the village and adjacent areas gathered in large numbers, pelting stones at the security forces and shouting pro-Islam slogans.
The forces responded by firing their guns and lobbing teargas shells.
"The police and Army had received information about terrorists hiding in Litter village of Pulwama district. The area was cordoned off and a search operation was launched," Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said.
The encounter started when the terrorists opened fire at the security forces.
"During the encounter, both terrorists were eliminated," Col Kalia said, adding that their bodies were recovered.
According to the police, the two terrorists were identified as Wasim Shah and Hafiz Nasir Ahmad Mir.
Security forces also recovered one AK-47 sub-machine gun, one AK-56 and six AK magazines from the site.
Shah, 23, also known as 'Abu Osama Bhai', was killed at Litter area in Pulwama, a place considered to be a safe haven for militants. This is the first counter-insurgency operation in Litter area in four years.
Jammu and Kashmir police has been tracking the movements of Shah, who is considered as the 'don of Heff', another traditional stronghold of militants in South Kashmir's Shopian district.
Khan was found at a hideout at Litter and police and its special operation group team cordoned off the area, police said.
Shah along with his accomplice Nisar Ahmed Mir made an attempt to flee the area but could not penetrate the cordon which had been strengthened by the presence of Central Reserve Police Force personnel, they said.
Shah was wanted in various terror-related cases, while Naseer, was a local who had joined militancy in May this year.
Born in a middle class family of Gul Mohammed Shah, who ran a fruit business, Shah was an active supporter of Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group since his school days and had doubled as a courier boy for the outfit, police said. Off late, Shah, who carried a cash reward of Rs10 lakh on his head, was recruiting fresh cadres for the militant outfit.
He had been involved in various attacks on security forces in South Kashmir, police said.