J&K terrorist groups finding new recruits
31 May 2006
Srinagar: Evidence has emerged that up to a dozen residents of Maharashtra and Gujarat recruited by Islamist terror groups may be training with the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in southern Kashmir. On Tuesday, Jammu and Kashmir Police and troops of the Rashtriya Rifles shot dead Mohammad Irfan, code-named Janbaaz Hizbi, in an encounter near the town of Tral, in Pulwama district. A resident of Mattaharam village in Kolhapur district, Irfan was killed along with a long-standing ethnic Kashmiri Hizb-ul-Mujahideen operative, Asif Jamil. Little is known about Irfan's background, other than that he had been a seminary student in Maharashtra. He used the honorific Hafiz during his religious studies, a term used to refer to those who can recite the Quran from memory. Intelligence sources said he had been in Jammu and Kashmir for at least six weeks, but added that the precise mode of his recruitment had yet to be established. Change in terrorist base Coming just weeks after the discovery of twin Lashkar-e-Taiba cells in Aurangabad and Ahmedabad, Irfan's elimination suggests that terror groups may now be sending recruits from Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh to Jammu and Kashmir, instead of bases in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Intelligence reports suggest that at least a dozen such recruits are training with Hizb- ul-Mujahideen units in south Kashmir alone. Aggressive recruitment Sources said Irfan was most likely being trained on behalf of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has aggressively recruited cadre in both Maharashtra and Gujarat. In April, the Lashkar-e-Taiba's south Kashmir division commander, so far known only by the alias Asif, had held discussions on collaborative strategies with his Hizb-ul- Mujahideen counterpart, Mohammad Ashraf Shah, code-named Sohail Faisal. Collaborative strategies Two recent high-profile terror bombings — the May 23 attack on a Border Security Force truck in Srinagar, which injured 32 troops, and an April 24 assault on Air Force personnel near the Awantipora base — are thought to have been outcomes of that meeting. Investigators believe that Irfan may also have been handed over for training in Tral at around the same time. Cadre exchanged Evidence also exists that the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen has made available its operatives to other groups. Kulgam-area terrorist Bashir Ahmad Bhat, for example, enrolled as a religious studies student at a madrasa in Gujarat to recruit cadre and develop infrastructure for top Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami operative Imran Shehzad Bhatti, who was killed in a shootout with the Ahmedabad police in March. Enhancing pan-India capability Another possibility is that the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen is seeking to enhance its own pan-India capabilities, something the terror group has long desired. As early as July 2001, police in Jalgaon in Maharashtra had arrested nine members of a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen cell, which had attempted to bomb offices of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Fourteen other cell members were later arrested from Kanpur, Hyderabad and New Delhi. SIMI members Several members of the cell, which drew its cadre from the now-proscribed Students Islamic Movement of India, had trained with the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in Jammu and Kashmir. Three Jalgaon men, Sheikh Asif Supdu, Sheikh Khalid Iqbal and Sheikh Mohammad Hanif are thought to have died in an encounter during their training in the remote mountains around Kishtwar, in Doda district. Again, in 2002, at least six residents of Gujarat, from Ahmedabad, Bharuch and Surat trained at joint Hizb-ul-Mujahideen-Lashkar bases in the Hil Kaka mountains, near the frontier town of Poonch after being recruited by an Islamist cleric, Maulana Sufiyan Patangia. Five of the men subsequently crossed the Line of Control to undergo advanced training. One, Munir Ahmad, was killed in an encounter with the Army.