Jammu: Former Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist who joined Hizbul Mujahideen in 2015, Saddam Padder, tossed in his balaclava for the post of new commander of the outfit, signifying a tussle for authority with Riyaz Naikoo, who, a day earlier, had emerged as the likely successor to Zakir Musa.
The exit of Zakir, unseated as Hizb chief for calling for an ISIS-style jihad in Kashmir, and the killing of Sabzar Bhat last week, has created a vacuum in the newly constituted Hizbul module in south Kashmir.
Naikoo, 29, who has favoured the return of Pandits to the valley, may have spoken himself out of the job to lead Hizb, sources said, and added that Padder will make full use of the opportunity to take over as the new commander.
Padder, 25, was a contender for Hizb commander earlier as well, but Zakir Musa beat him to it, sources said. Padder, who belongs to Heff village in Shopian, gave up studies after Class 12 to help his father in his orchard, sources said. He joined militancy five years ago, and was part of the Lashkar module until 2014 along with Abbas Sheikh, Rahul Amin Dar, Wasim Shah and Farooq Bijran.
Around 200 militants are currently operating in south Kashmir. In Pulwama district, 21 are affiliated with Hizbul Mujahideen, police said. Another eight are with Pakistani Lashkar commander Abu Dujana. Naikoo was also part of Dujana’s group before he joined Hizb’s ranks under Burhan Wani.
Like Naikoo, Padder too was part of Wani’s group. Other members included Zakir Bhat, Parvez Dar, Mohammad Salleh Akhoon of Arampora Awantipora and Aqib Bhat and Sabzar Bhat of Tral. This Hizbul module operated between Tral, Awantipora and Panthachowk in south Kashmir.
Another module, with just six militants, operates solely in Pulwama district and has been behind the killing of civilians, panchayat members and mainstream political figures. Pulwama module members are Arif Nabi Dar, Ayoub Lone, Reyaz Dar, Shafi Sheergogree, Jahangir Ganai alias Jana, Sameer Bhat alias Tigar. Sameer started as a stone pelter before turning to militancy in 2015.