Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, the Kashmir cell of Al-Qaeda, has claimed to have appointed a new chief to succeed Zakir Musa, who was killed in an encounter with security forces two weeks ago, The Times of India reported. Thirty-year-old Hameed Lelhari is a native of Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir and a member of Islamist organisation Jamait-Ahl-e-Hadith.
In a video released on Wednesday, a spokesperson of the Al-Qaeda affiliate claimed that Lelhari had replaced Musa and Ghazi Ibrahim Khalid was appointed his deputy commander. The video was released by the affiliate’s media wing Al Hurr.
Lelhari earlier served as Musa’s deputy after they split from the Hizbul Mujahideen and swore allegiance to Al-Qaeda in July 2017. Unidentified police officials confirmed to The Times of India that he had taken over the affiliate but said he is “hardly a top terrorist”. They confirmed the veracity of the video, but were not aware about his deputy’s identity and background.
Another unidentified senior government official told The Economic Times that the militant group might have links with Pakistan.
“Pakistan has been using proxies to stoke trouble in the Valley,” the official said. “Though the group claims its affiliation to the al-Qaeda, their links with Pakistan-based militants cannot be ruled out.”
Last month, Musa was killed in an encounter with security forces in a village in Tral area of Pulwama district. Officials had said efforts were made to convince Musa to surrender but he allegedly threw grenades at them, which led to the encounter. Sporadic protests and shutdowns have continued in the Valley after Musa’s killing.
Musa was a former Hizbul Mujahideen commander and the chief of the Al-Qaeda’s Kashmir cell. He joined militancy in 2013 and came to the limelight after security forces killed militant Burhan Wani in 2016.