Four Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants were killed in gunfights with security forces in South Kashmir’s Anantnag and Kulgam districts, the police said on Thursday, according to Kashmir Observer. The militants were involved in the killings of a teacher and a sarpanch in the Valley.

“The Kulgam encounter is an important one, as the terrorists were involved in the killing of school teacher Rajni Bala on May 31 [in Gopalpora area],” Kumar said, ANI reported. “We were tracking the terrorists since then.”

The operation started on Tuesday, and the area had been cordoned off. It resumed on Thursday, Kumar said. One of the militants has been identified as Zubair Sofi of Mohanpora in Kulgam.

He had shot Bala, 36, a resident of the Samba district in the Jammu division. The firing occurred outside a high school in the Gopalpora area of Kulgam, where she was posted as a teacher.

The incident sparked protests in Srinagar, led by Kashmiri Pandits. The protesters demanded relocation of all migrant employees from the minority community to Jammu.

Since January, at least 19 targeted killings, including those of police officials, teachers and village heads, have been reported in Kashmir. Out of these, 13 were civilians – six were Hindus and seven were Kashmiri Muslims. Many of them were shot point-blank in their homes or workplaces.

The two Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants killed in the Anantnag on Thursday afternoon were identified as Junaid Bhat and Basit Wani, Kumar said.

Wani was involved in the killing of Bharatiya Janata Party sarpanch, Ghulam Rasool Dar, and his wife Jawahira in August, Kumar said. The suspected militants had attacked them at their house in Anantnag.

The police said that the couple was given a security accommodation at a hotel in Kulgam district where they had stayed for a short period. But Dar and his wife insisted on staying at their home in Anantnag and submitted an undertaking for it, the police said.

The couple was provided a personal security officer who was absent from duty when the incident took place.