New Delhi: Dealing another blow to militancy in Kashmir, security forces on Tuesday shot down Shakir Hassan, a close aide of militant leader Zakir Musa, in an exchange of fire in the town of Tral.

Hassan served as the deputy chief of the Jammu and Kashmir-based Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind terror outfit, with Musa as its chief. The outfit, intelligence officials added, had close ties with Pakistan-based militant outfits.

“On Tuesday, upon receiving specific intelligence inputs, security forces of the Indian Army’s 42 Rashtriya Rifles, the 180 battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the J&K Police special operations group (SOG) launched a cordon-and-search operation (CASO), after which an encounter broke out at 7.20am. One militant was neutralized," a CRPF spokesperson said.

Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Zakir Musa became the radical new face in the Valley in May 2017, with Musa’s radical messages, preached on videos, spreading across the Valley.

Musa has been professing an ideology similar to that of the Islamic State (ISIS)—to establish the Shariat or the Islamic law in Kashmir.

While Hassan’s killing may further instigate stone-pelting in the Valley, intelligence officials said that even as Zakir Musa had drawn overwhelming support from radicals in Pakistan who wanted a Caliphate established in Kashmir, neither he nor his outfit had made any significant dent in the militancy landscape in the valley.

“Zakir Musa and his aides are very popular among stone-pelters, but he is like a myth because he has not done anything significant yet. The army is always on the lookout for him and we won’t have too much to worry about," said a senior intelligence official, requesting anonymity.

However, the official said the trouble in Kashmir lay not in lone militants, but in en-masse radicalization that was under way.

“Radicalization in Kashmir is massive and it is more than India can handle. We are doing nothing to counter it. We want to reach out to the wrong people like the Hurriyat, for talks. ISIS is already prevalent here (Kashmir) and we will only see that increasing in the coming months," the official added.

Defence experts however, said the militancy situation would not spiral out of control in the future.

“The bulk of terror activity in Kashmir is carried out by Punjabi Muslims (Pakistani Punjabis) who are sponsored by Pakistan. The Islamic State or Al-Qaeda will not find supporters for their cause who will finance them," said Lt. Gen (retd) H.S. Panag, a defence expert.

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