Indian security forces shoot dead top militant in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, INDIA (AFP) - Government forces have killed the commander of a Pakistan-based militant group in Indian-administered Kashmir, police said on Tuesday (Dec 26), as the disputed territory ended its deadliest year in a decade.

Noor Mohammad Tantray, the head in the Kashmir valley of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group, was trapped in a house outside the main city of Srinagar on Monday evening along with his associates, triggering a fierce overnight gun battle.

Police described the operation as a "significant breakthrough" after Tantray's body was found under debris on Tuesday.

Police and troops cordoned off a group of houses in Samboora, "which resulted in a fierce gun battle leading to elimination of top JeM commander Noor Mohammad Tantray", police said in a statement.

Tantray's two associates managed to escape, a police official said on condition of anonymity.

The 47-year-old JeM commander, who was only about 1m tall, according to police reports, was described by officials as a new "security headache" when he took over as head of the group in Indian Kashmir last year.

According to police, he spent 12 years in jail after being convicted in a case of militancy in 2003, but jumped parole two years later to rejoin JeM.

As news of Tantray's death spread, hundreds of residents shouting "Go, India, go back" spilt onto the streets, throwing stones and clashing with government forces, who fired tear gas and pellet guns.

At least six protesters were injured, a police officer said.

Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan at the end of British colonial rule over the sub-continent in 1947. Both claim the entire Muslim-majority territory in full.

Since 1989, rebel groups, including JeM, have been fighting Indian troops and police deployed in the Himalayan territory. They seek its merger with Pakistan or its independence.

The fighting has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead.

Violence had steadily decreased during the past decade, but this year, some 350 deaths have been reported, following the Indian army's anti-militant offensive dubbed Operation All-Out.

Officials and rights groups say 210 suspected rebels, mostly locals, 57 civilians and 82 troops or police have been killed this year.