One of the three terrorists gunned down by security forces in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district is believed to be the son of Abdul Rauf, the key conspirator behind the 1999 hijacking of an Air India plane and brother of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar, a senior Union home ministry official said. He is understood to have infiltrated into India about four months ago with 15 others.
A US-made M4 rifle used by Pakistani Army special forces was recovered following the encounter, which took place on Monday and is being described as a “breakthrough”. An Army soldier was also killed in the gunbattle in Aglar area and two AK-47 rifles recovered. The killed militants have been identified as Mehmood Bhai, the so-called divisional commander of JeM in the south, Tallah Rashid, Masood Azhar’s nephew, and Wasim Ahmed Ganie.
While the first two were in the category of ‘most wanted’ militants carrying a cash reward, the third was a local and had joined militancy in May this year, top officials from the police, Army and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) said at a press conference here. A Jaish spokesperson identifying himself as Hassan Shah sent a statement to local news agencies claiming that one of the slain militants was Tallah Rashid, nephew of Maulana Masood Azhar.
Inspector General (Kashmir Range) Munir Khan said, “I am thankful that for the first time they have owned a Pakistani militant, that yes, he is nephew of Maulana Masood Azhar. Now, we will take up the matter through proper channels and we will very firmly request... please claim the body and take it because they have owned it.”
Azhar was one of the three militants released by the Centre in exchange for passengers of the Indian Airlines plane hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar in Afghanistan in December, 1999. Major General BS Raju, who heads Victor Force and is responsible for security in south Kashmir and parts of Budgam and Bandipore, said Pakistan’s special forces use M4 carbine rifles and it is likely that they supplied the weapon to the JeM. The weapon is mostly used by the US Army in its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “M4 Carbine is a US-made weapon, presently with a lot of armies in NATO and it is also with the Special Forces of the Pakistan Army. So we have reason to believe that this particular weapon was given by the Pakistan Army to the JeM cadre. This clearly shows the complicity between the JeM and Pakistan,” he said. The commander said it was the first time that a US-made weapon was recovered in Kashmir and added that there were reports that 10 such rifles were brought in by terrorists who infiltrated from Pakistan recently.
While the number of militants has not come down, the level or quality of militancy in Kashmir definitely has come down. The quality of people who are joining is definitely being compromised and the relative peace that is there in the environment is ensuring that the government to function better. That is an important development, Raju said. According to him, the presence of JeM militants in the Valley is an indication that Pakistan thinks the “capacity and the propensity” of Hizbul Mujahideen to survive has reduced. There is too much connect between this and radicalisation. This void is being filled by JeM, he said. CRPF Inspector General Zulfiqar Hassan said, “Yesterday, after a gap, we noticed a lot of stone-pelting. It started from Pulwama and continued till where the operation was taking place. We would like to reiterate that we are fully capable of facing these situations.”