Riyaz Naikoo was the operational commander of the banned terror group Hizbul Mujahideen in India. He was killed on 6 May 2010 in an operation in the Kashmir Valley’s Pulwama district. Naikoo was one of the most wanted terrorists in the valley.
Riyaz Naikoo was born in April 1985 HUFFPOST (age 35 years; at the time of death) in Beighpora village of Awantipora tehsil in Pulwama district, Jammu and Kashmir. He grew up in Beighpora and attended the government school in the neighbouring village of Gulzarpora. Thereafter, Naikoo studied at the Higher Secondary School in Noorpora. He was a graduate in Science with Mathematics as his major subject. HUFFPOST
Riyaz Naikoo belonged to a Kashmiri Muslim family. His parents, Asadullah (father) and Zeba (mother) are farmers and work on their own field in Beighpora. Naikoo’s father, Asadullah also runs a small tailoring shop in the village.
Riyaz Naikoo had three brothers and one sister; he was the second among his siblings.
A Meritorious Mathematician
Reportedly, Riyaz Naikoo was brilliant at studies and according to his father, Asadullah, Naikoo scored 464 marks out of 600 in 12th standard. After graduating in Science with Mathematics as his major subject, Naikoo started teaching Mathematics at a private school in his native town. He taught there till 2010-11. Naikoo also used to give free tuitions to several students in his village.
The Incident That Led Him To Become a Militant
It was 11 June 2010, when a tear gas shell struck the 17-year-old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo who was playing cricket at Srinagar’s Gani Memorial Stadium; leading to his death.
The gas shell was fired by the J&K Police to quell a protest against the fake encounter of three civilians in Machil. Tufail Ahmad Mattoo’s death followed by massive protests in the valley; terming Mattoo a martyr. Soon, the protests turned violent, and a vicious chain was established in which another boy would get killed in a protest, which would follow another protest, and so on; leading to the death of several youths in the valley. These protests gave birth to the culture of stone-pelting at the security forces, which went on to become a usual phenomenon in the valley. Riyaz Naikoo, shaken by Mattoo’s death, had also participated in those protests and was arrested by the police among scores of youths.
Went Missing From Home
When Riyaz Naikoo came out of prison in 2012, he was not the same Mathematics teacher, something had changed inside him. According to his father, Asadullah, in the summer of 2012, Naikoo had asked him for Rs. 7,000 to apply for admission in a post-graduate university in Bhopal and on 21 May 2012, he went missing from the home, when Asadullah and his wife went for the evening prayer after arranging a chicken meal for the dinner. Asadullah says,
Following the prayers, I couldn’t spot him. I thought he must have gone to meet his cousins but he didn’t return.”
Asadullah adds that they tried to call him several times, but his phone was switched off. On 6 June 2012, Asadullah was told by the police that Naikoo had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen. Reportedly, after Naikoo had gone missing, his home was raided multiple times by the police. His father, Asadullah said to a reporter,
Ever since 2012, our home has been raided at least 30-40 times. Most of the times we are beaten up. My wife too has been beaten up in the past and especially the last time police came. They broke our fridge, our rice cooker and radio. Even threw out our clothes.” HUFFPOST
According to Naikoo’s uncle, Ghulam Qadir, once the J&K Police raided Naikoo’s house and spray-painted Musa’s name (a terrorist of the Hizbul Mujahideen) all over it.
Joined the Hizbul Mujahideen
By the time Riyaz Naikoo had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen in 2012, it was being led by the 21-year-old Burhan Wani; the most charismatic face of Mujahideen in a generation.
Naikoo became a close associate of Burhan Wani, and he went on to become a key member of the banned terrorist outfit in the valley. There, he became a close aide to many confidantes of Wani, including Saddam Padder.
A Successor of Burhan Wani
After Burhan Wani‘s encounter by security forces in Bumdoora village in Kokernag area of South Kashmir on 8 July 2016, the 21-year-old Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Zakir Musa succeeded him and took command of operations in the south. Soon after succeeding Burhan Wani, Musa started giving off-key notes through video releases. In one such video message, Musa said,
Nationalism and democracy are not permissible in Islam. When we pick up stones or guns, it should not be with this intention that we are fighting for Kashmir. The sole motive should be for the supremacy of Islam so that Shariah is established here.”
In another video message in May 2017, Musa said that if any Hurriyat leader would come in his way of establishing Islamic rule in Kashmir, he would chop their heads and hang them at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk. The message didn’t go well with the senior commanders of the Hizbul Mujahideen, and they didn’t back his statement. Amid the rumours that Musa would leave the organization and join a new outfit called the Ansar Ghawzat-Ul-Hind, it was Riyaz Naikoo who rose and commanded the Hizbul Mujahideen and became Musa’s successor. On Naikoo’s rise in the Hizbul Mujahideen, a senior intelligence officer once said during an interview –
While Musa is partly responsible for loss of his popularity in South, Naikoo’s leadership skills and ability to bind together his associates and subordinates prevailed. He might have not uttered a word against other militant outfits operating in South Kashmir, but he managed to hold his own outfit together.”
According to a senior intelligence officer, it was with the help of Altaf Dar alias Altaf Kachroo that Naikoo had risen to ranks in the Hizbul Mujahideen; as Kachroo was very close to the Hizb chief Syed Salahudeen. After Kachroo’s encounter by security forces in August 2018, it had become a herculean task for Naikoo to progress his operations in the valley.
On 6 May 2020, he was shot dead in his home village of Beighpora. According to locals, Naikoo had been on the run for eight years and was trapped in a joint siege laid by the Indian Army, Central Reserve Police Force, and the Jammu and Kashmir Police. BBC In media, Naikoo’s death was termed as a massive success for India’s security forces.
- According to sources, Naikoo was in an underground hideout, and he used to visit his village through a tunnel.
- Riyaz Naikoo was such a key member of the Hizbul Mujahideen that in January 2020, Vijay Kumar (the Inspector General of Police, Kashmir) had said,
If we are able to kill Riyaz Naikoo, Hizb would almost be wiped out from South Kashmir.”
- In May 2018, he had asked Kashmiri women to avoid chatting with soldiers and strangers on social media, He said,
We appeal to our sisters to remain away from army and policemen and avoid chatting with strangers on social media. Nor you should share your secrets with strangers. It will be used to blackmail you.” Hindustan Times
- In June 2018, amid the rumours that militants were planning to attack Amarnath Yatra, Riyaz Naikoo refuted the rumour and said,
Amarnath Yatra is not our target. They come here to perform their religious rituals. They (yatris) are our guests.
- Naikoo was considered the brains behind “abduction day” in which eleven family members of policemen were abducted by the militants in South Kashmir, and they were released only after Naikoo’w father was released from police custody.
- According to Naikoo’s mother, Zeba, he came to meet her twice – in 2013 and 2015; since he had left his home in 2012.
- His mother, Zeba says that Naikoo loved to paint a lot, and he had lots of rose paintings.
- Naikoo’s mother, Zeba, also claims that Naikoo was very soft-spoken and humble, she says,
My younger son complains so much about the food that I cook but Riyaz Saab would keep his head down and eat everything that I put in front of him. Whether the food had extra or no salt, Riyaz Saab would never point out. May Allah keep him under his protection.”