Wanted Jaish commander shot in J&K gunfight, 5 held in NIA raids on terror caucus

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SRINAGAR: A wanted Jaish-e-Mohammed commander whose journey from timber smuggler to terror merchant spanned two decades of bloodshed in J&K was shot dead in an encounter with security forces at Tral in south Kashmir's Pulwama on Wednesday, two years after he joined the Pakistan-based outfit full-time.
The killing of 45-year-old Shamsuddin Sofi, alias Sham Sofi, coincided with the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arresting five more overground operatives of various outfits as part of a crackdown on Kashmir's terror ecosystem that has supposedly spawned new threats hiding in plain sight.
Sofi was part of a group of terrorists cornered by a joint team of the police, the Army's 42 Rashtriya Rifles and CRPF in the Waggad area of Tral, where BJP councillor Rakesh Pandita was killed last June by an offshoot of the proscribed Lashkar-e-Taiba.
"We launched a cordon-and-search operation in that area after receiving information from Awantipora police about terrorist movement there. The hiding ultras fired at the advancing forces, triggering a gunfight in which one of them was killed. The slain terrorist turned out to be Jaish commander Sofi," a police official said.

Sofi, a resident of Satura Tral in Pulwama district, had found his moorings in terrorism as an overground worker providing logistical and other support to Jaish terrorists from Pakistan. He had been arrested in 2004 under the Public Safety Act, but continued his association with Jaish after his release, mainly by way of arranging shelter for terrorists in the Tral area. He joined the Jaish fold as a commander in 2019, carrying out a series of attacks on security forces and civilians, IGP (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar said.
Sofi, whose brother Nazir used to assist Hizbul Mujahideen till he switched loyalty to Jaish, was also known to radicalise and recruit local youth for the outfit. He is the eighth ultra to be gunned down by security forces in J&K since Monday, when five Army personnel were killed fighting terrorist infiltrators in the frontier district of Poonch in Jammu.
Weapons, ammunition and various incriminating material were found at the Tral encounter site, IGP Kumar said.
In the day's other counter-terrorism success, a series of raids by the NIA at multiple locations in Srinagar, Budgam, Pulwama and Shopian districts led to the arrest of five overground terror suspects identified as Mohammad Haneef Chiralu, Hafeez, Owais Dar, Mateen Bhat and Arif Farooq Bhat. The agency had picked up four suspects on Tuesday in connection with a plot to carry out attacks in J&K and major Indian cities. The conspiracy involves Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and Al Badr, an NIA spokesperson said.
Several electronic devices and incriminating documents were confiscated during raids on two buildings in Srinagar.

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