A popular militant commander and one other gunman were killed Saturday in a standoff with security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir, sparking widespread protests across the valley that left at least one civilian dead.

Police said Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, the operational commander of the terrorist group Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed Saturday morning in a siege that had begun Friday night when security forces were fired upon near the town of Tral in south Kashmir.

After exchanging gunfire with the security forces, the militants took refuge in nearby houses, police said, prompting a search operation. Bhat and a young militant were killed during another exchange of fire.

After the shooting, locals thronged to the area and began pelting security forces with stones, unrest that eventually led to protests throughout the valley.

Bhat was a childhood friend of Burhan Wani, the social media-savvy militant commander whose death July 8 set off weeks of strikes and protests in Kashmir, eventually claiming 78 lives.

Jammu and Kashmir Police Chief Shesh Paul Vaid said that police have been searching for Bhat for over a year and that he was instrumental in drawing many youth into militant ranks.


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