New Delhi: The National Investigation Agency (NIA), along with Jammu and Kashmir Police and intelligence agencies, has launched an operation to “break the network of overground workers (OGWs)” involved in terrorist operations, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources in the security establishment said the strategy has been devised in light of the string of civilian killings in Kashmir over the past two weeks. The crackdown, sources added, has led them to identify over 1,000 OGWs and newly inducted militants — those who carry out an attack and then merge with local residents, going back to their daily routine — in the Union Territory.
While 800 have been detained, nine suspects have been arrested, it is learnt.
After seven civilian killings in the first week of October, a source said, “a high-level meeting was held earlier this month in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and it was decided that the network of OGWs needs to be busted”.
“These men, who are radicalised and inducted into various terror groups, are the ones who provide all the logistical support including space to hide, money and other things and they do all the groundwork,” the source added.
“They are the base on which terrorism thrives and this is what needs to be dealt with. All the agencies sat down to form a strategy on how to break their network.”
The spate of recent killings in October first week — victims include three Hindus, one Sikh and three Muslims — has come as a reminder of peak-militancy days in Kashmir in 1989 and 1990, when thousands of Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee the Valley.
Two more labourers from Bihar were killed Sunday in Kulgam and one was injured after terrorists opened fire. On Friday as well, two non-locals — Arvind Kumar Shah, a gol-gappa hawker, from Bihar was killed in Srinagar, and Sagir Ahmed, a carpenter from Uttar Pradesh, was shot dead in Pulwama by terrorists.
After the meeting, the source said, the NIA registered an umbrella case of “conspiracy” against unidentified men and started searches. “A list of OGWs with the help of available inputs was made and 1,000 were identified. More than 800 of them have been detained,” the source added.
Of the 800 detained, the people “with the deepest involvement” in terrorist activity will be arrested and probed by the NIA, while others with a “lesser degree of involvement” will be investigated by J&K Police. The latter will be booked under the Public Safety Act. Those with no involvement but with a suspicious track record will be let off, and “monitored”, the source said.
According to a source in J&K Police, a total of 28 civilians had been killed by terrorists this year as of the second week of October. Out of the 28, five belonged to the local Hindu/Sikh community.
These killings, the source said, were an “act of desperation” because a large number of terrorists of all outfits have been killed, especially their leadership, and their support structures destroyed amid continuous and effective efforts to maintain law & order.
“Handlers across (the border) have got frustrated and changed their strategy and started targeting unarmed policemen, innocent civilians, politicians and now innocent civilians from minority communities, including a woman,” the source said.
“In all such cases, terrorists have been using pistols. These acts are committed by newly recruited terrorists or those who are about to join terrorist ranks. In some cases, OGWs have been found directly involved,” the source added.
The case and raids
According to the FIR, accessed by ThePrint, the NIA received “reliable information” that cadres of proscribed terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen, al-Badr and others, and their affiliates such as the Resistance Front, People Against Fascist Forces, Mujahideen Gawatul Hind are all active in J&K, and are being operated from Pakistan.
“They are conspiring both physically and in cyberspace, and planning to undertake violent terrorist acts in J&K and major cities in India, including New Delhi,” the FIR said.
“They, in cohorts (sic) with their Pakistan-based handlers and commanders along with the network of OGWs, are also indulging in radicalisation of impressionable local youth for the purpose of recruiting and training them in handling of arms, ammunition and explosives,” the FIR reads.
After the case was registered, the NIA conducted searches at 16 locations in the Valley in connection with the case Tuesday. On Wednesday, the NIA again conducted searches at multiple locations and arrested a total of nine men — Waseem Ahmed Sofi, Tariq Ahmed Dar, Bilal Ahmed Mir and Tariq Ahmed Bafanda, Haneef Chiralu, Hafeez, Owais Dar, Mateen Bhat and Arif Farooq Bhat.
Several electronic devices, “incriminating jihadi documents”, and records of suspicious financial transactions have also been seized.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)