Nineteen-year-old Sameer Ahmed Bhat alias Tiger had given security forces slip five times in the past over one year. Possibly the youngest top Hizbul Mujahideen Commader so far, Sameer however, could not succeed the sixth time. After months of hiding in the thick forests of South Kashmir, he had come back to where he once belonged only to find death lying in wait, just a few meters away from his home in Pulwama district.
While most of the towns and villages in militancy-infested district continue to have deserted streets, the lanes of village Drubgam buzz with the mourners headed for the house of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Sameer Ahmad Bhat alias Tiger--who died in an encounter with Armed forces on Tuesday.
A large makeshift tent set up in the courtyard of Sameer’s house fails to accommodate the visitors. The mosque-speakers are intermittently blaring out the songs of resistance and defiance sung by local singers.
While thousands of people on Tuesday participated in his funeral, there is hardly any let-up in the anger against security forces. The entire village remains in deep mourning the death of Sameer who was yet to celebrate his 20th birthday.
Sameer, an A++ category militant, came from a very humble background. His father Mohammad Maqbool Bhat is a manual worker and his younger brother works as a mechanic. While several families in the village are affluent and own apple orchards, Bhat’s family has only a few acres of land.
A chronic stonepelter, Sameer was a Class VIII dropout. He reportedly got the “honorific” Tiger as he would remain at the forefront of angry demonstrators who would clash with the security forces and pelt them with stones during pro-freedom protests.
Sameer, according to local police, was arrested in 2016 on charges of stonepelting, only to be released a few days later. He was then counselled by police for nearly two weeks and let off with a condition that he would continue with his studies.
Instead, one day, not very long after, his parents approached the Drabgam police station and registered a missing report about their son, officials recounted. He had fled into the jungles of adjoining Tral and joined the Hizbul Mujahideen militant group besides extending help to other terror outfits.
According to senior police officials, he persuaded about 80 people to join the militancy movement in South Kashmir and repeatedly managed to escape the police dragnet -- until now.
Sameer in fact had become the face of the militant outfit after the death of Burhan Wani. He largely remained active in two districts of Southern Kashmir—Shopian and Pulwama. After Burhan Wani's death, videos of a bearded, long-haired Sameer appeared on various social networking sites in a bid to entice Kashmiri youths to join militancy.
Allegedly, he carried out several political and civilian killings besides he is also accused of abducting small time political workers and police informers, torturing them and recording their agony.
Sameer would frequently post his videos and photographs on the social networking sites. In one of the videos released in 2017, he can be seen interrogating a few local youths allegedly masquerading as militants. Subsequently, one of Sameer’s photographs, which showed him fiercely staring into camera with an American M-4 carbine placed on right shoulder, had gone viral on the social media. It raised hackles among security forces over militants possessing sophisticated American weapons in Kashmir Valley.
“We were left dumbfounded to see such sophisticated weapons falling in the hands of militants. Even our men fighting insurgency are not armed with this kind of weaponry” said a police officer on the conditions of anonymity.
About a month ago, a video emerged on the Facebook that showed Sameer imparting arms-training to the new recruits. A few days later, he was blamed by security forces for the killing of senior political leader Ghulam Nabi Patel.
A day before he got killed along with another militant, Aaquib Mushtaq after a six-hour-long encounter, he had dared Indian Army and Major Rohit Shukla especially in a video message. In the video, the Hizbul commander is seen interrogating a supposed informer about the whereabouts of the Indian Army. He is then seen warning the the “informer” of not sharing information of the Hizbul operatives with the Army. At the end of the video, Tiger, whose face cannot be seen, is heard saying, “When the lion stops hunting, dogs believe that the jungle belongs to them. I challenge Shukla to come face-to-face.”
On April 30, following specific information about the presence of militants in Drabgam, a joint team of Army, CRPF and police cordoned off the area and launched a joint operation. During the fierce encounter, Major Shukla also got critically injured and is currently battling for life.
“His elimination is a massive victory. It’s a big jolt to the militancy as he was the main recruiter for the group,” the official remarked.
(With PTI inputs)