Dehradun: The Uttarakhand Police’s Special Task Force (STF) has arrested four people for allegedly providing shelter to one of the alleged conspirators behind the Pathankot blast in Punjab in November 2021. The police linked the four to “pro-Khalistan” organisations based outside India.
The arrested men have been identified as Shamsher Singh alias ‘Shera’ or ‘Sabi’, his brother Harpreet Singh alias ‘Happy’, Ajmer Singh alias ‘Ladi’, and Gurpreet Singh, also known as ‘Gurri Dhillon’.
The Uttarakhand Police also said that Sukhpreet Singh alias ‘Sukh’ — the alleged conspirator the four are accused of sheltering — had already been arrested by the Punjab Police.
Punjab was rocked by bomb blasts in November and December last year. Hand grenades were hurled twice in Pathankot, one in the Chakki Pull area on 11 November and one at the army cantonment on 21 November, which did not result in any casualties.
Similarly, an explosive had been thrown at the district police station in Nawanshahr on 7 November, causing no “great damage”, and a blast at the Ludhiana District Court complex had killed one person and injured six on 23 December.
“Although no direct links have been discovered so far between the arrested persons and the bomb blasts in Punjab — Pathankot, Ludhiana and Nawanshahr — in November and December 2021, the possibility cannot be ruled out,” a police officer told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
STF officials said that Sukhpreet, the alleged ‘mastermind’ behind the attacks, had been on the run since the Punjab Police made six arrests on 10 January in relation to the Pathankot hand grenade attacks. The STF officials said they had launched an operation after receiving information that Sukhpreet was hiding in Udham Singh Nagar district.
According to the police, the four men arrested, all local residents, are in the 24-30 age group and were picked up Friday from a farmhouse owned by ‘Shera’ in the Bajpur area. The STF announced the arrests Saturday.
Police also recovered a .32 bore pistol and a Ford Figo car with a Delhi number plate that they said was used by Sukhpreet to move between hideouts.
“We were given inputs three-four days ago that Sukhpreet Singh, a close associate of KTF (Khalistan Tiger Force) and mastermind of the Pathankot blast, was hiding in Udham Singh Nagar district,” STF superintendent of police (SP) Ajay Singh said.
“Following this, a joint operation was launched by the STF in association with Udham Singh Nagar police, but Sukhpreet escaped from here even before inputs were received from the Punjab Police,” he added.
The SP added that the four men arrested for sheltering Sukhpreet were booked under Section 19 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967, and Section 25 of the Arms Act. “All four were sent to 14-day police remand after being produced in the court late in the evening,” he said.
Ajay Singh said Sukhpreet had already been arrested by the Punjab Police in Gurdaspur after he had escaped from Uttarakhand, where he had stayed for four to five days.
Alleged international connections, ‘larger designs’
Police alleged that the four men accused of sheltering Sukhpreet were working for the banned organisations Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) and International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), with handlers outside India.
“They not only provided shelter to Sukhpreet Singh but were also part of modules of the anti-national forces KTF and ISYF, whose handlers are in Canada and Pakistan respectively,” said SP Ajay Singh.
He added that the men were involved with KTF’s Canada-based handler, Arshdeep Singh alias ‘Arsh’. The four were in constant contact with Sukhpreet and ‘Arsh’ after the Pathankot blast, the officer said.
Udham Singh Nagar senior superintendent of police (SSP) Barinderjeet Singh said Sukhpreet “was in touch with ‘Shera’, who also shared posts and messages with KTF head Arshdeep through WhatsApp and other means”.
The SSP added that the four accused “were also associated with Pakistan-based ISYF, led by Lakhbir Singh Rode”. “They were part of its module to recruit and radicalise youths to take up anti-India activities,” he added.
Saying that the men had “larger and more serious designs”, Barinderjeet Singh said: “All the inputs have been shared with higher agencies and investigation is on at different levels.”
Kumaon deputy inspector general (DIG) Nilesh Anand Bharne said the arrested men had been in touch with handlers in Canada, Serbia, and Pakistan.
“They were persistently shifting their locations from Haldwani to Bajpur and other locations in Udham Singh Nagar in order to keep the whereabouts of Sukhpreet undisclosed,” he said, adding that the STF and Udham Singh Nagar Police “were able to prevent something more serious that would have happened in the coming days”.
According to another police officer who wished to remain anonymous, the men arrested in Uttarakhand were part of the KTF’s alleged activities to create groups of Khalistan radicals in the country.
“They were all set to create a force of radical youth following the directives of their masters and handlers from outside India,” said this officer.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)