Indian Kashmir rebels kill top anti-terror officer

SRINAGAR, India - Militants have killed one of Indian Kashmir's most senior police officers, credited with hundreds of successful anti-insurgency operations in the restive region, police said Thursday.

Gunmen opened fire on sub-inspector Mohammad Altaf during a covert operation against a top rebel in Kashmir's northern Bandipore area on Wednesday and he later died in hospital, officers said.

Altaf was attempting to find a top commander from the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, who carries a bounty of two million Indian rupees (S$44,000), when the shooting occurred, according to a police officer.

Altaf, a decorated officer with 15 years of service, was known for using communications surveillance to track militants operating in the region.

K. Rajendra Kumar, the director general of Kashmir's police, described Altaf's death as an "irreparable loss".

"Today we lost one of our most outstanding officers in counter-insurgency... My salute to the martyr," he said in a statement. Another top police officer paid tribute to his comrade, describing him as "the best among us, a hero".

"He single-handedly finished off the top leadership of the Hizbul Mujahideen during a decade of meticulous work," the officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Hizbul Mujahideen is the largest of several rebel groups that have been battling hundreds of thousands of Indian forces deployed in the region for decades, fighting for the territory to be given independence or made part of Pakistan.

The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians.

Altaf and his team were attacked in their car by suspected rebels, who approached in a vehicle behind them and opened fire, the officer said.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947 but both claim the territory in its entirety.