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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Poonch-Rajouri belt has a JeM history but LeT too under scanner after terror strike

The investigation of Thursday’s terror strike, in which five soldiers were killed and one injured, has been assigned to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), even as several security and intelligence agencies are separately trying to find out any signatures left behind by the group involved in it.

The agencies, according to highly placed official sources, are scanning evidence and sifting through data with the help of both technical and human intelligence. The Army as well as the Jammu and Kashmir Police are mostly tight-lipped in absence of clarity about the hands behind the ambush. After hours of confusion in media and security circles, the Army on Thursday evening issued a brief statement, making clear that the truck had been ambushed and automatic weapons, as well as grenades, had been used by the terrorists.

Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, Dilbagh Singh, Additional DG Jammu, Mukesh Singh, DIG Rajouri-Poonch, Haseeb Mughal, and other police officers did not make any comment. They did not respond to phone calls from journalists. Officials at headquarters Northern Command maintained that they had to say nothing beyond Thursday’s press release.

Officials in Delhi insist that there were some clear footprints of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT). According to them, a group of at least seven LeT terrorists ambushed the vehicle of Rashtriya Rifles 49 Bn. AK-47 rifles and RPGs were used to destroy the target.

However, well-placed sources in the Central and Union Territory agencies in Jammu and Kashmir said that things would become clear in a day or so. According to them it could be the handiwork of either JeM or LeT. “Going by the history of the terror strikes in that area and some human intelligence inputs, it appears to be done by JeM. But even LeT’s role cannot be ruled out at this stage”, said a senior officer.

Another equally well-placed officer said: “Traditionally only the JeM has been operating in the west of the Rajouri-Poonch border belt since 2021. Five soldiers, including one JCO, were killed in an encounter in the Jera Wali Gali, in Thannamandi area of Rajouri on October 11, 2021. Four soldiers, including one JCO, were killed in another encounter in Bhimber Gali, Bhatti Dhurrian, in Mendhar area of the Poonch district on October 14, 2021. JeM was clearly involved in both the attacks”, the officer said.

He pointed out that actors of the two ambushes were still at large. According to him, another module of JeM cadres killed two civilian workers outside an Army camp at Rajouri on December 16, 2022. Later, the same group of terrorists killed seven civilians, all from the minority Hindu community, at village Dhangri, in Rajouri. He said that a module of LeT was active in the east of Rajouri-Reasi districts. It also planted one IED in Basantgarh area which was recovered by the Police and security forces on December 17, 2022.

The blast which torched a bus near Katra on May 13, 2022, killing four civilian pilgrims, is also believed to have been caused by LeT, though an unknown outfit, Jammu and Kashmir Freedom Fighters (JKFF) claimed responsibility for the same. The NIA is holding a detailed investigation in it.

After abrogation of Article 370 and reorganisation of the erstwhile State into two UTs in 2019, both the formidable jihadist groups have raised front organisations. According to the Police, it has been strategised to dodge the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as also to give an impression that only the local Kashmiri militants were fighting in J&K. Officials claim that LeT has been operating under the front name of The Resistance Fighters (TRF) and JeM under Peoples Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF).

All the memes, ridiculing the Indian television news coverage last evening, came out with the PAFF stamp.

Another officer in a different agency stressed on the ‘modus operandi’ and “the mindset of the perpetrators”. “Apparently the target is the G20 event scheduled in J&K on May 22-25. The Pak-sponsored terrorists seem to be out to create fear among the participants as Pakistan has failed in its propaganda and diplomatic campaign against the G20 events in J&K and Ladakh. But it is particularly noticeable that the terrorists have tried to burn the vehicle and the soldiers rather than ripping it with grenades and rockets,” said the officer.

The officer believes it could also be revenge for the killing of four JeM terrorists, who were burnt beyond recognition during an encounter in their truck on the Sidhra outskirts of Jammu on 28 December, 2022. “It appears they wanted to kill the soldiers by burning them in fire rather than bullets and splinters. This is something new,” he said.

Officials who visited the spot on Thursday and Friday said that there were only two vehicles in the movement when the first one was targeted in the bad weather in Tota Gali, in Bhimber Gali area, close to LoC in Mendhar sector. The targeted vehicle has been hit by several bullets. All the five slain soldiers have severe burn injuries but three of them also have gunshots on their bodies. These officials said that a heavy wooden log had been placed to block the road. As the soldiers of the front vehicle came down and began removing the log, they were targeted with gunfire, grenades and highly inflammable substances from two directions.

“In almost all previous ambushes and encounters, soldiers and the Policemen died due to gunshots and splinters. This is very rare that the attackers wanted the soldiers to die in fire,” said an officer. He added that a forensic analysis would make things clearer. “It’s not fully clear which outfit did it. But there’s no confusion that it has been done by Pakistan, mainly to target the peaceful ambience of G20,” he asserted.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)

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