Bandipora: Jammu & Kashmir Police said Thursday that BJP leader Wasim Bari might have been killed by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), adding that they had zeroed in on two militants and an overground worker as prime suspects.
“One local named Abid and a Pakistani militant might have carried out the killings,” Kashmir (zone) inspector general Vijay Kumar said at a press conference, adding that the murder appeared to be “pre-planned”.
Bari, his father Bashir Ahmed and younger brother Umer Bashir were shot dead outside their family shop in north Kashmir’s Bandipora area around 8.30 pm Wednesday.
All three were affiliated with the BJP. Bari, a former president of the party’s Bandipora unit, was now a member of the J&K BJP executive and head of the party’s local training department. Umer was part of the youth wing of the BJP, while their father Bashir had served as vice-president of the party’s Bandipora unit.
“We have learnt that Bari was being watched for quite some time and even tailed by an individual when he (Bari) visited his wife’s home in the area,” said IGP Kumar, adding that they had CCTV footage to prove he was being tailed.
All three, it is learnt, are scheduled to be buried at a mountain-top graveyard in Bandipora that currently hosts only four unclaimed bodies.
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Sequence of events
There was heavy security deployment in Bandipora Thursday as police began their hunt for the assailants. ThePrint spoke to several local police personnel to piece together how the attack unfolded.
According to a local police officer, Bari was at his residence with his wife and two children before he decided to visit the family shop, located at the ground floor, around 8.30 pm, something he did most evenings.
Bashir and Umer were already at the shop. Police believe the militants were lying in wait for Bari’s arrival. As soon as the attackers saw Bari walking up to his family members, sources said, one of the attackers came forward and shot him in the head. Even before Bari’s brother or father could resist or attempt to escape the spot, the militant aimed the pistol at them and shot both of them, again in the head, the sources added.
The second militant is believed to have served as a lookout. Bari, Umer and Bashir were taken to the local district hospital but declared brought dead.
Bari’s residence-cum-office is located in a highly secure area on the main road in Bandipora town, a few metres away from a police station, and a small facility where troopers of the CRPF’s 37th battalion are stationed.
“It must have been a matter of 15-30 seconds. As soon as we heard the shots we came out,” said one of the police personnel. “We suspect that the militants might have already been waiting at the spot before Bari’s arrival and walked up to him when he came down from his home.”
“We believe that Mr Bari was the prime target, and that the militants decided to kill his brother and father on the spot,” the police source added, saying they were yet to ascertain if the attackers used a vehicle to carry out the attack. “It is possible that their vehicle might have been parked nearby.”
The Bari family had a strong security detail that comprised at least 10 personal security officers (PSO). However, all of them were inside the building when the incident took place. They have now been suspended for negligence, IGP Kumar said. They are currently detained for questioning.
“We have collected evidence, including CCTV footage from the area. We have some eyewitnesses who are being interviewed as well,” a police source said.
Another police officer said the shop was mostly tended by Bashir and Umer’s presence at the site was “sheer bad luck”.
“We were told that he had gone to the barber’s shop first but, finding it overcrowded, decided to wait at the family shop,” the officer added.
Local police personnel said militants might have chosen Bari as their target to scuttle the functioning of mainstream political parties, the BJP in particular, in Kashmir. Last month, Ajay Pandita, a Congress sarpanch, was killed by suspected militants in south Kashmir.
‘Take me with you’
As she sat beside the bodies of her father and two brothers, Gousia Islam was wailing inconsolably. It was just two years ago that she had lost her mother Neelofar Begum in a car accident that Gousia and Bari had survived.
“What have you done to yourself?” she cried Thursday. “Who have you left behind to take care of us? Take me with you.”
Several local BJP leaders, including J&K unit general secretary Ashok Kaul and chief Ravinder Raina, visited the Bari residence to offer their respects. “Why were they killed. They were innocent workers of a political party. The people who killed them should and will be punished,” said Abdul Rehman Thekri, who contested the 2014 assembly elections unsuccessfully.
Bari, too, had contested the polls unsuccessfully as an independent candidate. He later joined the BJP and immediately became one of the party’s most prominent faces in north Kashmir.
J&K BJP spokesperson Altaf Thakur told ThePrint that Bari was given the responsibility of the training department, whose main focus is public outreach and inducting fresh recruits. “He had helped thousands of people in his area and that is why the militants targeted him,”said Thakur.
Local government officials said, over the last year, Bari had become quite powerful owing to his proximity to some senior BJP leaders. “He would even pull up senior bureaucrats and government officials if he thought there was dereliction of official duty. This was despite the fact that he did not hold an official position,” said one government official.
A local resident said the family “held a lot of influence in the area and the influence was only increasing with each passing day”.
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