July 23, 2015 / 5:52 PM / 2 years ago

Militant group disowns splinter faction in Indian-controlled Kashmir

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistan-based militant group on Thursday disowned a splinter faction suspected of a string of killings in Indian-occupied Kashmir, with concerns growing that rogue insurgents could ratchet up tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

The two neighbors both claim the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, and have fought two of their three wars over it since becoming separate countries in 1947.

Hizbul Mujahideen, a Kashmiri separatist group whose leader Syed Salahuddin is based in Pakistan, said it had expelled Abdul Qayoom Najar over his involvement in "gruesome murder" and the "character assassination of established pro-freedom leadership".

Indian security forces say Najar leads a breakaway group called Lashkar-e-Islam that carried out a series of recent attacks around the town of Sopore, killing five telecoms workers and vendors.

The decision to expel Najar was taken by Hizbul Mujahideen's command council headed by Salahuddin, a 69-year-old Islamic preacher who turned to militancy in the 1980s. He is widely viewed as allied to hardline Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is 85.

"The report submitted by the inquiry commission has proved that Qayoom Najar, in an utter disregard of the Hizb leadership, violated the constitution of the outfit and carried out condemnable acts. Our constitution does not allow or permit such actions," Salahuddin said in a statement.

Analysts say the emergence of a breakaway faction could mean that a new generation of Kashmiri militants is trying to break free from the ageing separatist leadership -- inspired by jihadists elsewhere who have resorted to extreme violence and spread their message through social media.

Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Douglas Busvine/Mark Heinrich

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