The abduction and release of family members of the Jammu and Kashmir policemen has brought the spotlight back on Riyaz Ahmed Naikoo, the most wanted militant in the Valley at the moment.
Naikoo, 30, started figuring prominently on the radar of security agencies after the killing of militant poster boy Burhan Wani in 2016. He carries a reward of Rs 12 lakh on his head.
A resident of Naikoo Mohalla in Durbug of Awantipora , Naikoo has been listed as a category “A++” militant, which is given to the most-wanted militants in the Valley. He took over as chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen in the Valley after the killing of his associate Sabzar Bhat in May last year.
“Naikoo is now considered to be the overall commander of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) for the entire Valley. In the last one year, the security forces cornered him many times but each time he has managed to escape,” said a central security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The officer added that Naikoo has assiduously cultivated an image of a moderate militant.
“Last year Naikoo released a video saying he would welcome the return of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley and claimed that militants were not enemies of the Pandits,” added the official.
Two of the closest associates of Naikoo, Altaf Kachroo and Saddam Peddar, have been killed by the security forces. Naikoo is also believed to be behind the revival of the “Gun Salute” that militants give to their fallen comrades at their funeral.
“He has been seen firing in air during the funerals of dead militants as a tribute,” said another security official.
The security officials also believe Naikoo has managed to draft many young people from south Kashmir into militancy due to his image. The abduction of the kin of policemen started soon after Naikoo’s father was taken into custody.
In a fresh audio message released on Friday evening, Naikoo reiterated his threat to the police, asking them not to be ‘Indian agents’.