Srinagar: With security forces and intelligence agencies stepping up crackdown on terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir, militant outfits in the Valley have lost many men and weapons.
Militants of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Kashmir are left with only two of an estimated 10 sniper rifles brought into the Valley from Pakistan between 2017 and 2018, sources in the security establishment told ThePrint.
Most of these rifles were confiscated by security personnel after a series of encounters in 2018 and 2019, while one was found burnt after an exchange in Tral last year, the sources added.
The rifles, which are American M4 carbines, were said to have been brought into Kashmir via the Line of Control by a group of militants that included two of JeM chief Masood Azhar’s nephews, Talha Rashid and Mohammad Usman. Both were killed in different encounters last year.
The carbines were being used as sniper rifles by militants by equipping them with telescopes and night-vision devices. This epitomised a fresh threat to security personnel posted in the Valley, with militants deploying the assault rifles to shoot them from a distance.
In October 2018, five sniper attacks across Kashmir resulted in the killing of three security personnel.
According to the sources, the militants who brought in the rifles, including Talha and Usman, were trained in using the weapon with precision, and may have trained local militants in handling the rifle.
Security officials say there is a possibility that the number of Kashmiri militants who can work the M4 may currently not be greater than two. This includes a Kashmiri who was seen with an M4 in a social media photograph released by militant groups earlier this year, a source said.
“There is a chance that the number of militants trained in using the sniper might be more than two but, as of now, according to the input we have received, only two such weapons remain in Kashmir,” a senior police officer told ThePrint.
Three recovered this year
Of the eight rifles recovered, three were seized following encounters within 2019.
One was found around two weeks before the 14 February Pulwama attack, and another on 11 March, during the encounter that led to the death of JeM commander Mudasir Khan, the alleged mastermind of the suicide strike, according to sources in J&K Police.
The latest, they added, came on 29 March. The weapon, the sources said, was recovered from an encounter site at Sathu in Nowgam, where two JeM militants were killed in a gun battle with security forces.
Although it’s been nearly a year since the last sniper attack, police remain concerned about the possibility of another. “Now that only two such weapons remain, we are being extra cautious,” said another J&K police officer.
According to sources, the security team of a prominent politician from a mainstream political party in Kashmir was asked to take extra caution while travelling through the Budgam-Pulwama belt following intelligence inputs about the presence of Jaish snipers in the area.