New Delhi: In a major breakthrough for security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, the mastermind of last month’s Sunjwan camp attack in Jammu, Mufti Waqas of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), was gunned down in Awantipora area on Monday.

“Waqas, the operation commander of JeM, has been eliminated in Awantipora. He was the mastermind behind several terrorist attacks on security forces including the Sunjwan attack. Weapons and incriminating materials like Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) preparation material have been recovered. He is a foreign terrorist," S.P. Pani, inspector general of Jammu and Kashmir police said.

The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in New Delhi stated that “troops of the 130 battalion of CRPF along with Special Operations Group (SOG) Awantipora and 50 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) carried out cordon and search operations (CASO) wherein an encounter with terrorists started. Troops neutralized (killed) Waqas and recovered arms and ammunition from the spot."

Five Indian Army soldiers, a civilian and three terrorists were killed in the attack on the Sunjwan Army camp on 10 February.

“The JeM especially has been targeting security establishments. It is not a coincidence, but a well thought out and planned exercise on their part. They have been identifying such camps and keeping a close watch for weeks at a stretch, with adequate help from local villagers. Waqas’s death is a small victory because a few days later another youth who has received training in equal measure will be sent forth by Pakistan. It is a cyclical process," said a senior intelligence official on condition of anonymity.

While intelligence units in Kashmir stated that Waqas had been trained in Pakistan, defence experts added that Pakistan was unlikely to change its strategy on Jammu and Kashmir and that India would have to continue to exercise a policy of strategic restraint.

“These petty skirmishes will keep happening – ceasefire violations, followed by terrorists infiltrating into the valley from Pakistan. The present government has run out of options. Either we conduct covert operations without making a hue and cry and be prepared for Pakistan to retaliate in equal measure, or pin our hopes on bilateral and DGMO (director general of military operations) talks between the two armies," said Lt. Gen (retd) H.S. Panag, a defence expert.

Meanwhile, Kashmir’s Shopian district was on the boil, after three civilians were allegedly killed in a crossfire between the Indian Army and two terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) on Sunday night.

On Monday, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, “Deeply distressed by more deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire in Shopian. My heartfelt condolences to the deceased’s families."

While the Indian Army has been drawing flak over the killings, it said on Monday that the civilians had been acting as overground workers (OGW) for the militants and had been travelling in the vehicles which had been ambushed by the army.

“Terrorist movement has increased in the area (Kashmir). There is a very thin line between a civilian and an OGW. It is a matter of investigations to see to what extent they were supporting the terrorists," Brigadier Harbir Singh, commander of 12 Rashtriya Rifles of Indian Army told the media in Srinagar.