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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Indian forces kill Kashmir's diminutive 'merchant of death' 

Noor Mohammad Tantray is thought to have been involved in at least two deadly attacks

Kashmiri villagers look on during the funeral of Noor Mohammad Tantray in the Aripal village of Tral district. Tantray was killed by government forces on December 26 as the disputed territory ended its deadliest year for a decade. Tauseef Mustafa / AFP
Kashmiri villagers look on during the funeral of Noor Mohammad Tantray in the Aripal village of Tral district. Tantray was killed by government forces on December 26 as the disputed territory ended its deadliest year for a decade. Tauseef Mustafa / AFP

Noor Mohammad Tantray, the militant killed by Indian forces in Kashmir on Tuesday, was only four feet tall in his socks. But he had become a big “security headache” for India, officials admitted in October.

At the time, Tantray had just taken over as the local head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist group in south Kashmir. The organisation has been accused of masterminding several attacks on Indian troops and civilians, even as Kashmir experienced its bloodiest year this decade.

At least 350 people—civilians, Indian troops, and terrorists—died as a result of violence in Kashmir in 2017, according to figures maintained by the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. The last comparable year in terms of fatalities came in 2010, when 375 people were killed.

Tantray,47, was cornered in a house on the outskirts of Kashmir’s biggest city of Srinagar on Monday evening. A firefight ensued and he was killed early on Tuesday morning.

Police officials described the operation as “a significant breakthrough,” despite two of Tantray’s associates managing to escape.

Tantray, a former tailor, became involved in Kashmir's militant movement around the year 2000. He was originally recruited because his diminutive stature made him an unlikely looking militant.

According to a Srinagar police report he was trained in Pakistan for six months in the use of arms and ammunition before returning to Kashmir to participate in the militants' campaign to separate the region from India.

In 2003, Tantray was suspected of being close to Ghazi Baba, a JeM commander who organised an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001. When he was arrested that year, in New Delhi, Tantray was found in possession of guns as well as hundreds of thousands of rupees in cash. His trial took eight years to conclude.

In 2011, he was sentenced to life imprisonment under India’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, a law that was passed in the wake of the 2002 parliament attack. Tantray was jailed in Delhi and then relocated to Srinagar and released on parole in 2015.

Police officials suspect that Tantray violated his parole this year and rejoined the JeM.

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He is thought to have been involved in at least two JeM attacks: in September, a grenade attack on the motorcade of Naeem Akhtar, a minister in the Jammu & Kashmir government, in which two civilians were killed and at least 30 injured; and in October, an attack on an army camp near the Srinagar airport, in which one soldier and three terrorists died after a nine-hour gun battle.

Tantray was also “an active recruiter of local youth into militancy,” Muneer Khan, the inspector-general of police in Kashmir, said on Wednesday. Under Tantray, the JeM, which had been effectively suppressed in 2014, experienced a revival of sorts this year.

On Tuesday, in Tantray’s funeral procession, mourners chanted anti-India slogans. On Wednesday, shops and businesses in the Kashmiri town of Tral remained shut for two consecutive days, ostensibly to protest Tantray’s death.

Although 2017 began with bouts of protests and violence, the activity has abated somewhat because of India’s effective “neutralisation” of militant leaders, said Ajit Kumar Singh, a research fellow at the Institute of Conflict Management.

“The street violence is going down, the stone pelting [by protestors against troops] is going down,” Mr Singh said.

But the militancy in Kashmir is, in reality, “a proxy war by Pakistan,” said Mr Singh. This, he added, is the root cause that India needs to address. Military operations like the one in which Tantray was killed can only gain temporary relief. “Security forces can salvage order,” he said, “but they cannot bring the permanent solution we’re looking for.”