A security officer patrols near the site of an attack in Jammu. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
SRINAGAR: Just before and during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s, visit to Jammu and Kashmir, the twin regions of the Union Territory — Jammu and Kashmir Valley — witnessed a series of armed clashes between uniformed forces and separatists, leaving, at least eight militants including a top commander of proscribed Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), and a security official dead and more than a dozen other personnel injured.
Also, hours before the Prime Minister’s arrival in Jammu on Sunday, a mysterious blast was reported from Laliyana in the Bishnah area on the periphery of the winter capital. Though no loss of life or damage was reported, the place where it occurred was about 12 kilometres from Palli where Modi addressed a mammoth rally on the National Panchayat Raj Day.
Officials said that the clashes between the militants and security forces take place routinely in the Kashmir Valley, but they believe the two alleged Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) militants killed in an encounter in Sunjwan on the outskirts of Jammu city on Friday had been tasked by their Pakistani handlers to strike in a spectacular way ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit.
Jammu’s Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Mukesh Singh, claimed that the JeM militants were speaking to one another and others only in Pashto, the official language of Afghanistan that is also spoken in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and some northern areas and could hail from there. "It is believed on the basis of the arms, ammunition and other equipment being carried by them that they had been tasked to strike in a spectacular way, most probably by carrying out a massive suicide attack in Jammu."
The police has arrested siblings Shafiq Ahmed and Asif Ahmed from Tral of Pulwama district who were working in a walnut factory in Narwal, close to Sunjwan, on the charge of helping the militant duo. It has launched a manhunt for another Kashmiri resident, Bilal Ahmed Wagay, who, according to the police officer, transported the JeM militants to Sunjwan from the frontier district of Samba in a vegetable-laden truck. He claimed that the accused were in touch with a Pakistani-based JeM commander known by his codename ‘Veer’ through Telegram application.
A team of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had also visited the encounter site in the Sunjwan area for the initial evidence gathering, the sources said.
The National Investigation Act, 2008 gives the NIA powers to take suo motu cognisance of terror activities in any part of the country and register a case, to enter any state or Union Territory without permission from the concerned government, and to investigate and arrest people. In 2019, the act was amended to expand the type of offences the agency could investigate and prosecute including the ones coming under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908. End it
Meanwhile, two militants killed in an encounter with the security forces in Puhoo area of Kashmir Valley’s southern Pulwama district on Sunday have been identified as LeT cadres including Arif Hazar alias Rehan who, according to the officials, was deputy to the outfit’s top commander Basit.
The police sources said a 17-year-old youth Nazish Shakeel Wani from the Khanyar quarter of capital Srinagar who went missing on April 16 is among the slain. The third militant killed in the gunfight has been identified as a Pakistani resident known by his codename ‘Haqqani’.