Taliban’s ally in J-K loses five men
16 September 2001
The Indian Express
Srinagar: EVEN AS United States prepares for an offensive against the Taliban, its only ally in Kashmir, Jaish-e-Mohammad, lost five militants, including two top commanders, in a fierce gun battle at Tral, 30 km south of Srinagar today. ‘‘We got a tip-off about the presence of a large group of militants, mostly foreigners, in village Panzoo at Tral. At around 4 am, we rushed to the spot and, with the assistance of the local Border Security Force, cordoned off the village,’’ said Vijay Kumar, Superintendent of Police, Operations, Pulwama. ‘‘The militants tried to escape and took shelter in a neighbouring house. We asked them to surrender and even sent local village elders but they flatly refused. At around 8 am, there was firing from inside. We retaliated and the house, where they had taken positions, caught fire. Two of them were charred to death and the other three were killed while trying to escape from the windows.’’ Kumar said that all the five militants belonged to Jaish-e-Mohammad. ‘‘One of them was Azhar Mahmood, the divisional commander of Jaish in the area, while another, Safdar Bhai, was the company commander. Both were Pakistanis,’’ he said. ‘‘There were two local and another foreign militant as well,’’ Kumar said. According to a senior officer of the Border Security Force, there are around 400 Jaish militants active in the valley. ‘‘We are really apprehensive that if US dislodges Taliban government in Afghanistan, a large number of militants will move here. It is definetly going to be a difficult situation,’’ a senior police officer said. ‘‘And as Jaish is the only group here that has links with Taliban, their ranks will swell,’’ he said. Jaish-e- Mohammad, the second largest jihadi group fighting in Kashmir, was floated by Moulana Azhar Masood, who was released in exchange for passengers and crew of the hijacked Indian Airliner at Kandhar, Afghanistan. It launched its activities with a suicide attack at the Army’s 15 Corps headquarters in Srinagar with an explosive-laden car in Feberuary last year. Azhar, who used to be a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen ideologue, was arrested in Anantnag in 1994 and his party had made many unsuccessful bids to get him out of prison. After he was released along with two top militant leaders in the Indian Airlines hijack deal, Azhar surfaced in Karachi vowing to work for intensification of ‘‘jehad’’. He visited Afghanistan to get fresh recruitments for the outfit and to seek the support of the Taliban. Later, he tried unsuccesfully to form an umbrella group and bring outfits like Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-e-Jehadi Islami and Albadr under one command. He then formed a new outfit Jaish Mohammad and established its links with the Taliban militia. According to Army sources, Azhar managed to gather 300 Afghan commandos. ‘‘These militants have been kept in two camps at Murri and Domana and are led by two militant commanders Safdar Bhai and Kamran Ali,’’ the sources said. Perturbed by Azhar Masood’s anti-America rhetoric the Pakistani establishment kept him restricted to Bhawalpur. The outfit has conducted three suicide attacks on Army installations since its inception. Jaish’s style of suicide attacks has been different from Lashkar’s. The latter tries to sneak its militants inside the security forces camp’s first, so that theoretically at least they have a chance of returning alive.