Srinagar suicide bomber was Class 12 student
22 April 2000
Srinagar: The suicide bomber who tried to drive a Maruti 800 laden with high explosives into the Army’s 15 Corps headquarters here on Wednesday was a Class 12 student at a city higher secondary school. He volunteered for the suicide mission, masterminded by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (Army of [Prophet] Mo-hammed), a militant organisation formed by Moulana Azhar Masood soon after his release from a Jammu jail in exchange for the hostages aboard Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 at Kandahar in January this year. The car and its driver, Aafaq Ahmed Shah, were blown to bits as it crashed into a three-ton Army vehicle while trying to speed through the entrance gates of the Badamibagh Cantonment. The suicide run has, however, given a new dimension to the decade-old militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, observers feel. Earlier, fidayeen (devotional) squads of Islamic militants would occasionally force their way into security force camps only to fight and, if they survived, to boast of their exploits. These were not suicide attacks though the militants were prepared to perish. In one such attack on November 3 last year, Major Pramod Pursushottam, the defence PRO at Srinagar, and six of his colleagues were shot dead by militants in Badamibagh Cantonment itself. Most of these attacks would be carried out by “guest mujahideen,” as foreign militants are referred to in secessionist terminology. The trend set by the fidayeen forced the security forces to change their strategy. But now, after the suicide-bomber attack (the first of its kind), officials feel the whole order of strategy needs to be reviewed. What is notable is that the suicide-bomber was not a foreign mercenary nor a militant but a student from central Srinagar. Aafaq’s classmates at the Government M.P. Higher Secondary Institution here did not have the slightest idea about his association with the Jaish-e-Mohammed or any other militant outfit. “All we knew about him was that he was a dazzling colleague and equally religious... who would not miss a namaz even while at school,” said one of Aafaq’s classmates. His teachers corroborated the claim. Aafaq’s mother too was unaware of his connection with Maulana Azhar Masood’s group. She became anxious when Aafaq did not return from school on the fateful day. His father, Muhammad Yusuf Shah, a retired college lecturer who has been detained at a security force camp here for questioning, started making frantic inquiries, asking Aafaq’s friends, neighbours and relatives about his son that evening but nobody gave him a satisfactory answer. The family was eventually informed about Aafaq’s fate by the police but his parents, neighbours and friends found it difficult to believe. No one would believe that Aafaq, the offspring of the respectable Shah family and a boy loved by all for his compassionate outlook would carry out a suicide attack against the Army. Over the past three days, hundreds of people have visited the Shahs at their residence in Srinagar’s congested Shalla Mohalla locality to express their sympathies. A large number of men offered fateha at his grave in a Muslim cemetery at Dal Gate. Militant outfits and their supporting political groups are issuing statements praising his “supreme sacrifice.” All have pointed out that Aafaq was a local student who carried out the sensational suicide attack at high-security Badamibagh Cantonment, a fact which “must make it clear that Kashmiris can go to any extent in their freedom struggle.” The Jaish-e-Mohammed has warned of more such attacks. The car used for the attack was snatched from a woman entrepreneur at Lal Bazar here some three hours before Aafaq tried to drive it inside Badamibagh Cantonment. The police has also questioned the owner. A senior official admitted that, on the face of it, the authorities are somewhat perplexed how Maulana Azhar Masood succeeded so quickly to create a base for his outfit, and that too deep in Kashmir’s summer capital. Some see it as an intelligence failure. No one has questioned the standpoint that what Aafaq did last Wednesday will have its impact on Kashmir’s younger generation, particularly the student community. “It can well set a new trend — the most dangerous one — in the decade-old militancy in the state,” said an official on condition of anonymity.