SRINAGAR, (India), Indian government forces killed the top rebel commander in their part of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, officials said, describing it as a major success against separatists.
Burhan Wani, chief of operations of Indian Kashmir's largest rebel group Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in the fighting Friday after Indian troops, acting on a tip, cordoned a forested village in the southern Kashmir's Kokernag area, said Police Director-General K. Rajendra.
Two rebel comrades of Wani were also killed in the gunbattle, he said.
Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed in entirety by both. On India's side, about a dozen rebel groups have been fighting for independence or merger with Pakistan since 1989.
In his early 20's, Wani had become the iconic face of militancy in Kashmir over the last five years. He was a household name and his video clips and pictures were widely circulated among young people in Kashmir.
Inspector-General Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani described his killing as the "biggest success against militants" in recent years.
His death is expected to trigger large scale anti-India protests in the restive region and officials were expected to impose a security lockdown, a police officer said on customary condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to reporters.
Separatist leaders have already called for a shutdown on Saturday to protest the killings.
Most citizens in the mostly Muslim region have long resented the Indian presence, and support rebel demands for independent or merging with Pakistan.