SRINAGAR, Kashmir — Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Indian-administered Kashmir on Friday, many clashing with security forces, after news spread that Indian forces had killed the most wanted militant in the contested region.
Tensions have been high in Kashmir, and the latest episode of violence following the killing of the militant, Zakir Rashid Bhat, was in stark contrast to parts of India where celebrations were underway for the landslide re-election victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has long been advocating rolling back the provision of the Indian constitution that grants some degree of autonomy to the Indian part of Kashmir, and Mr. Modi’s victory has increased fears he will go through with it.
Kashmir, a majority Muslim and mountainous area, has been caught in a longstanding and often brutal territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. In the 1980s, a secessionist movement took shape, with young Kashmiris crossing into Pakistan for arms training. India responded by deploying large numbers of forces in the region to quell the uprising, and continues to maintain a heavy military presence.
The 25-year-old militant commander, popularly known as Zakir Musa, was chief of Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind, an affiliate of the Islamic State in India. He was the first Kashmiri militant to pledge allegiance to Al Qaeda, which had also expanded its presence in the Indian subcontinent.
A graduate of engineering college in the Indian state of Punjab, Mr. Musa embraced militancy after what his family members had described as “humiliation” by Indian forces. He disappeared from home in the summer of 2013, leaving a note for his family not to search for him.
What made Mr. Musa dangerous in the eyes of the Indian authorities was that he took the grievances in Kashmir, long a domestic political issue, and tied them to causes championed by extremist organizations such as the Islamic State. His violent vision was in sharp contrast to traditional Kashmiri separatist leaders who have frequently sought the intervention of Western powers to resolve Kashmir disputes politically.
Residents in Tral, the village where the commander was killed, described the operation against him late on Thursday as a trap. Witnesses said security forces, pretending to be a gathering of supporters, had shouted, “Musa Musa, Zakir Musa,” a slogan popularized by teenagers in Kashmir. When the commander walked out of his three-story house, he was shot.
Swayam Prakash Pain, the top Indian police officer in Kashmir, described the killing as a “big victory” for Indian forces. Mr. Musa had remained under close watch by Indian forces, who had prevented any major attacks by him.
“It was a clean operation,” the police officer said. “He was in our wanted list for a long time.”
But Mr. Musa also had grown popular among young Kashmiris, many of whom embraced militancy after having faced harassment and beatings by Indian forces.
Thousands of mourners rushed to his village soon after the gunfight; many tried to touch his disfigured body in a sign of reverence for fallen militants. The region’s government closed schools and shut down mobile internet communications to prevent the kind of large-scale mobilization that has happened following previous security operations.
But angry protesters still filled the streets and fought pitched battles with forces. The roads in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administrated Kashmir, were littered with red bricks and stones thrown by crowds. Some protesters waved black flags of the Islamic State.
“He was my hero,” said Mohsin Khan, 19, a protester draped in one of the flags.