Former policeman among three militants killed in gunfight with Indian troops

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - A former police officer was among three Islamist militants killed in a gunbattle with Indian troops in the disputed region of Kashmir on Monday, security officials said.

They said Adil Bashir Sheikh, a former special police officer, stole a cache of automatic weapons from the house of a local legislator in September 2018 and joined the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen.

He was killed along with two other men in the Shopian district of Kashmir after being surrounded by security forces.

The three men were responsible for the deaths of a dozen people, including four police officers, according to Dilbagh Singh, director general of Jammu and Kashmir Police.

“It is a major success for security forces,” he said. “It was a successful operation,” Singh told a news conference.

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan territory, is claimed by both India and Pakistan and they have fought two wars over the region. Both claim it in full but rule it in part.

Tensions in Kashmir have been especially acute over the last year. India and Pakistan both said they carried out air strikes in enemy territory after a February 2019 suicide bombing by a Pakistan-based militant group killed dozens of Indian troops.

In August, India revoked the special autonomous status of its portion of Kashmir - to the fury of Islamabad. India, which said the move was needed to spur economic development in Kashmir, in turn accuses arch-rival Pakistan funding a decades-long insurgency in the region, an assertion Islamabad denies.

Many Kashmiris strongly oppose Indian rule, including some in the region’s police forces, which unlike the army is predominantly staffed by local people.

Earlier this month, security forces arrested Davinder Singh, a senior police officer responsible for security at the airport of the regional capital Srinagar after he was found traveling in a car with a commander of Hizbul Mujahideen.

“We have got a lot of information from him,” Singh said, without elaborating.

Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Mark Heinrich