Pak Militants Give Army The Slip

9 January 2009
The Times of India

Jammu: Hours after the nine-day Bhatidar encounter against holed up Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists was abruptly called off in Poonch district, both the police and the Army are baffled to find there was no one inside the caves they suspected were terrorists' hideouts. A defence spokesman, Col S N Achara, told TOI that the terrorists might have escaped. This was reiterated by Brigadier (general staff) Gurdeep Singh of 16 Corps. The possibility of terrorists fleeing has come as a rude shock for the police and the Army, that had been claiming that they had three rings of security forces surrounding them, and that there was no way that the six to eight ultras engaged in battle with the jawans could escape. Incidentally, the LOC is just about seven km from Bhatidar forests. A senior Army officer ruled out the possibility of terrorists digging a tunnel to sneak out to PoK. 'We had planted landmines around the forest.' He said the security forces also intercepted wireless conversations of terrorists with their 'masters' based in PoK. He claimed the terrorists might be hiding in the area posing as nomads. 'The police have arrested a retired ASI Muzaffar Shah and a woman Muneeze Begum for giving shelter to the terrorists,' the Army officer said. Some arms, ammunition and foodstock too have been recovered. The Army early this week had claimed that four terrorists had been killed during the encounter but their bodies never found. The encounter also claimed that the lives of a JCO, a soldier and a policeman. DGP Kuldeep Khoda said, 'The encounter in over and the search is still on, while extra troops deployed in the area to flush out terrorists from the forest have been pulled out. However, we will be able to give details only after a thorough search of the forest.' Meanwhile, reports based on intercepted wireless messages suggested that some top commanders of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad Abu Dawood and Abu Qari were present during the encounter. Reports quoting the same source said a top Jaish commander Oman was among the four terrorists killed. Col D K Kachari, PRO, HQ Northern Command, said, 'A couple of natural caves were destroyed during the encounter.' The fighting began on the intervening night of December 31-January 1 and is the longest ever in the history of insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir.