Militant commander, Sabzar Ahmad Bhat — who is believed to have replaced Burhan Wani as the Hizbul Mujahideen’s operational chief in Kashmir — remains one of the top-rated militants of the outfit. He had not only featured in the photos and videos that went viral on social networking sites, but his entry into militancy came through the usual route taken by militants to test the loyalties of those who join them. He had snatched a weapon from a member of the armed forces during the unrest that followed the killing of the brother of Burhan Wani in Tral, and was later trained in the forest areas before taking part in a number of militant activities.
Sabzar Ahmad Bhat (circled) in an undated video. Screen grab from YouTube
Last April, after the forces killed Burhan’s brother, Khalid Muzafar Wani, the people of Tral erupted in protests. At the bus stand that is close to Burhan’s home, youths swooped down on armed forces deployed there and Sabzar managed to snatch a rifle. The forests that lie in the vicinity of the Tral area are believed to have been the training ground for the militant. A senior police official said that the Tral area is surrounded by the forests of Gulshanpora, Gusoo and Shikargah where militants get the safe sanctuary and Bhat has received training in these very areas. According to police officials, “it is very unlikely that (Sabzar) would have crossed the border for the weapons training in Pakistan.”
Besides the attacks on the panchs, sarpanchs and security forces, Sabzar is known to have carried out the killings of civilians who were believed to have been the informers of the forces. While Burhan was an ‘A++ listed’ militant, police officials said, Sabzar was an ‘A category’ militant. The police have announced that people who can give information about Sabzar will be adequately rewarded.
Local residents in the South Kashmir areas of Tral said that it has been due to the excesses by the forces that the youths like Burhan and Sabzar have joined the militancy. However, security officials said that it has been due to Sabzar’s close proximity with Burhan that led to him joining the militancy. Sabzar is from the Ruthsuna area, which is only five kilometres from the home of Burhan.
“He knew Burhan and was his close associate, but he was asked to prove his loyalty,” said a senior security official. He also added that the Burhan was responsible for the “kidnapping’’ of civilian in Awantipora area who was later killed as the “militants believed that he was an informer for the security forces”.
Superintendent of police, Awantipora, Shridhar Patil, said that the Sabzar had many cases pending against him. “The militant is involved many cases and remains one of the most wanted militants for us,” he said.
Officials said that Sabzar is among the six militants from Tral who are currently active. He has reportedly featured in a rally at Kareemabad area of Pulwama and has developed an over ground workers (OGWs) network. “The militant has managed the movement due to the support for the militancy now in South Kashmir areas. It is due to the very good OGW network that militants like Sabzar have managed to create a wide support base for themselves,” said a senior police official.
Sabzar was earlier found wearing battle fatigues and carrying an AK-47 rifle in a forest in a group photo of the militants that went viral.
“Out of the 11 militants who featured in the photo that went viral on social networking sites, only five including Sabzar are active now,” added a security official. In south Kashmir, banners carrying the images of Burhan and Sabzar line up along the roads and near the graveyards in which militants have been buried. In Kareembad, at the militant graveyard, Sabzar, who sports long hair and beard, features in a forest alongside Burhan in a photograph.