Young and media savvy, Burhan Wani was a top figure in Hizbul Mujahideen and had a one million rupee ($14,900) bounty on his head
Wani, 22, joined the rebel movement at the age of 15 and in recent years had been behind a huge recruitment drive to the group’s ranks, attracting young and educated Kashmiris to the decades-old fight for independence of the restive disputed region.
Viewed locally as a hero, his death sparked protests in nearby Anantnag town, with hundreds taking to the streets shouting independence slogans and lauding Wani as a revolutionary, witnesses said.
Two of Wani’s associates were also killed in the gun battle in southern Kokernag village, police said.
“It is a huge success for security forces. It will dent the strength of HM in the (Kashmir) valley,” the inspector general of police for the region, Javaid Gillani, told AFP.
“It was a specific operation based on intelligence we had on him,” Gillani said.
The son of a school principal, Wani regularly posted videos and pictures of Hizbul Mujahideen fighters on social media.
“(Wani) had become a big inspiration for local youth to join the militancy,” a senior police officer said requesting anonymity.
Hizbul Mujahideen is one of several rebel groups fighting for Kashmiri independence or a merger with Pakistan, a cause that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians, since 1989.
Around half a million Indian troops are deployed in the Himalayan territory, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both in its entirety.