December 2005 News

Investigation blows open Lashkar overground links

3 December 2005
The Hindu
Praveen Swami

NA: Mainstream political parties in the State have been infiltrated by operatives Operatives killed on Friday night had photo ID cards of political parties Party cards used to get arms past security checkpoints NEW DELHI: A joint investigation by the Intelligence Bureau and Jammu and Kashmir Police has discovered disturbing new evidence that mainstream political parties in the State have been infiltrated by operatives working for the Lashkar-e-Taiba and are being used to provide cover for the terrorist group's operations. Lashkar operatives Ubaid-ur-Rahman, Mohammad Salim and Sadaqat Ali, who were killed in an operation by the Jammu and Kashmir Police on Friday night, were found in possession of photo-identification cards identifying them as members of the Youth National Conference. The Lashkar operatives, all Pakistani nationals, are believed to have been provided the identification by Shabbir Ahmad Bukhari, a Srinagar lower court lawyer and political activist who has been arrested on charges of aiding the terrorist group. Another Srinagar-based member of the Lashkar cell, Shakeel Ahmad Sofi, was a member of the State Youth Congress. Sofi had even obtained official accommodation two years ago after claiming that his life was under threat from terrorist groups. Like Bukhari, Sofi used party identification cards to move Lashkar personnel, weapons and communication equipment past security checkpoints. Police investigators had discovered ammunition, grenades and a hand-held satellite phone in Sofi's home on Thursday. Terror camps The three Lashkar terrorists killed yesterday, investigators say, were transported to Srinagar by Bukhari and Sofi from two camps perched on the Arin mountains, above the small frontier town of Bandipora. Commanded by two Lashkar operatives so far identified only by their aliases, 'Sa'ad Bhai' and 'Bilal Bhai', the camps are thought to have been launching pads for several of the fidayeen suicide squads who have carried out a succession of major terror strikes across central and northern Kashmir in recent months. Apart from using the fact that security personnel are reluctant to search individuals who possess identification from major political parties, Sofi also purchased a white Maruti jeep that was outfitted to resemble an official vehicle of the kind often used by bureaucrats and police officers. After the October fidayeen attack in Srinagar's high-security Tulsi Bagh area that claimed the life of State Minister Abdul Gani Lone, the jeep was used to move a terrorist who survived the operation code-named 'Osama' from Srinagar to safety. While the Hizb ul-Mujahideen, the largest militant group operating in Jammu and Kashmir, is long known to have built an elaborate network of political contacts in both the People's Democratic Party and the National Conference, this is the first time that hard evidence that the Lashkar has managed to penetrate the political system has been gathered. Analysts have long believed that the Lashkar, most of whose key operatives are Pakistani nationals, did not have significant numbers of ethnic Kashmiri supporters. Since 2002, however, when 22 mainly ethnic Kashmiri Lashkar cadre were arrested in Srinagar, this received wisdom has been under siege. Overground infrastructure Investigators are now focussing on the overground infrastructure used by the overall commander of the Lashkar's central and north Kashmir operations, Rawalpindi resident Mohammad Rashid 'Sulfi'. Rashid was killed late last night by the Jammu and Kashmir Police, acting on information provided by the Intelligence Bureau. Using the alias Rahman Mota, or 'Fat Rahman', Rashid had ordered a series of high- profile fidayeen actions, including an unsuccessful 2004 attempt on the life of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and an assault on former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's residence in Srinagar. Records of text messages sent to the satellite phone recovered from the Lashkar operative Sofi show he was connected with the Lashkar's amir-e-jihad, or overall head of military operations, an individual so far identified only by the alias 'Abu Alqama'. Since 'Abu Alqama' was also Rashid's immediate superior, and given the fact that the Lashkar commander had operated in Srinagar before shifting base to the northern Kashmir town of Sopore, investigators believe all of the Lashkar's operations may have shared a common pool of well-connected and apparently respectable overground operatives in the city. Among the individuals on whom attention is now being focussed is Tariq Dar, a Srinagar-based pharmaceutical salesman who was recently arrested on charges of handling the funds that were used to finance the Delhi serial bombings last month. Sources say Rashid was in touch with Dar, although it is unlikely he knew of the Delhi bombings. Intelligence sources say they suspect Dar also funnelled funds to two other major Lashkar units, the south Kashmir group commanded by an operative code- named 'Abu Maaz', and the north Kashmir group headed by an individual who uses the code-names 'Salahuddin' and 'Haider'.


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