Muslim cleric's killing sparks Kashmir turmoil

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The Independent Online
THE Kashmir valley was thrown into turmoil yesterday by the killing of an influential Muslim clergyman, Dr Qazi Nissar, who was tortured and shot in the head by unknown gunmen. His body was found yesterday morning dumped beside a mosque.

Shops and offices closed and a five-day general strike was called in mourning. Indian authorities identified Dr Nissar's murderer as a member of the leading Kashmiri guerrilla group, Hezbul- Mujahedin. But the group's supreme commander, Sayad Salauddin, denied the charges from his hideout in the mountains and claimed that over the past three months the clergyman had been an associate.

It is likely that the murder of Dr Nissar, a respected Islamic scholar and social worker, will delay the release of the two British hostages, Kim Housego, 16, and David Mackie, 36, kidnapped on 6 June by a different group of Kashmiri guerrillas. The two Britons were seized in the same Pahalgam valley where the cleric was murdered. Relatives of the missing Britons had been told by the Muslim extremist kidnappers that the pair would be released as soon as Indian troops retreated from the mountains and opened a safe route.

Indian officials said Dr Nissar was abducted on Sunday night from his residence in Anantnag, 40 miles from Srinagar, the Kashmiri capital. His corpse was found by prayer-goers on their way to a mosque at Dayalgam, several miles from Dr Nissar's home.

The grief-stricken procession carrying the clergyman's body gathered tens of thousands of mourners along the way. Usually when such an assassination occurs - and Kashmir lately has had many - the Indian security forces are blamed. But this time Kashmiris shouted slogans against Hezbul-Mujahedin and Pakistan.

Kashmir has more than 40 Muslim militant guerrilla groups. Some want independence from India. Others, such as Hezbul- Mujahedin, want to unite this Himalayan region, two-thirds of which is controlled by India, with neighbouring Pakistan. Rivalries are strong between the different Kashmiri factions, and one theory is that the powerful cleric fell victim to a clash between the pro-Pakistan guerrillas and those favouring independence.

However, the commander of Hezbul-Mujahedin said that Dr Nissar's death was 'the handiwork of Indian agents'. During the five- year uprising in Kashmir, in which thousands have died, the Indian intelligence services have proved skilful at playing the guerrilla organisations off against each other.