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How LeT’s Zia Mustafa was taken out of jail to track down militants in Poonch, but ended up dead

Zia Mustafa was arrested in 2003 for Nadimarg massacre. Police say he was killed in a crossfire while 'leading security forces to Pakistani terrorists hiding in forested areas of Poonch'.

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New Delhi: Zia Mustafa, the Lashkar-e-Taiba “operative” who was killed during an encounter with militants in Poonch Sunday, was a “crucial link” and could have “helped conclude the ongoing operation” to identify hideouts of terrorists, sources in the security establishment said.

According to sources in the J&K Police, Mustafa, who was accused of killing 24 Kashmiri Pandits in Pulwama’s Nadimarg in 2003 and had been in prison for the last 18 years, was in “constant touch with Lashkar handlers in Pakistan and was also guiding infiltrators hiding in Poonch, using a phone”.

Mustafa was killed in a crossfire while “leading the security forces to the Pakistani terrorists hiding in the forested areas of Poonch”, the J&K Police had said in a statement. Two J&K policemen and an Army soldier were injured in the crossfire.

According to sources, Mustafa was taken on a 10-day remand by police under the FIR registered at Gursai Police station, following the killing of four Army personnel in an encounter with the terrorists in Bhatta Durrian forests of Mendhar, Poonch district on 14 October.

“He was taken into 10 days custody as we had inputs about him being in touch with Pakistani handlers. He also had information about the terrorist hideouts in Poonch and had guided them. He too had infiltrated from this sector years ago. Therefore, he was taken to Bhata Durian area for identification of terrorist hideouts,” a police source said.

“The operation is in its last leg, and we were certain that Mustafa will have reliable information on the hideouts of these terrorists,” the source added.

The ongoing operation to track down terrorists who allegedly infiltrated from Pakistan and killed nine Army personnel between 11-14 October has been on for the last 14 days.

Also read: 15-day hunt for Lashkar infiltrators could end soon as forces zero in on Poonch forest caves

Who was Zia Mustafa

On 23 March 2003, gunmen dressed in Army uniform lined up 11 men, 11 women and two children outside their homes in Pulwama’s Nadigram area and shot them dead. On 10 April, Zia Mustafa, a resident of Rawalakote in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) was arrested as the “mastermind of the Nadimarg massacre” and has been inside the prison as an undertrial since then.

Along with Mustafa, three other militants were named in the FIR registered after the incident, but they were killed in an encounter in Kulgam by the BSF in April 2003.

According to the police, Mustafa was a “district commander of the LeT” and was “carrying an AK rifle, ammunition, and a wireless set” when he was arrested in 2003.

The police filed a charge sheet in the case on 9 June 2003 and charges were framed against Mustafa in October that year but out of 38 prosecution witnesses, only nine witnesses have been examined till date.

In 2011, the Shopian court closed the evidence for the prosecution citing a delay in prosecution’s inability to get other witnesses but the state  appealed in the J&K High Court, seeking more time, which was dismissed, Mubashir Gatoo, Mustafa’s counsel in the Nadimarg massacre case, told ThePrint.

In 2015, the Supreme Court then asked the high court to take up the matter and reconsider the state’s petition, but it was finally dismissed in 2017 after the state failed to appear before the high court for the hearing.

“Only nine prosecution witnesses have been examined till now, who do not have anything against Mustafa. Had the court relied only on statements of these nine witnesses, the prosecution would not have been able to prove the charges pressed against Mustafa and he would have been acquitted,” Gatoo said.

When asked about fresh allegations against Mustafa of being in touch with handlers from Pakistan and the infiltrators in Poonch, Gatoo said, “I am not aware of these fresh allegations. I was just representing him in the Nadimarg case. Since he is now dead, the case will be closed.”

Also read: ‘How can we leave them?’ — Kashmiris step up to protect migrants, build safehouses, cook food

‘Was radicalising the inmates to join terror ranks’

A second source in the J&K Police said that Mustafa was a “notorious inmate who was radicalising the inmates to join terror ranks”

“He was not just radicalising the youths, but also recruiting them. We also had inputs about him sharing numbers and contact details of Pakistan and over ground workers with people who would go out of jail,” the source said.

“He continued to motivate people to go to Pakistan for training,” the source added.

(Edited by Neha Mahajan)

Also read: Lashkar offshoot circulated ‘how to target non-locals’ document month before Kashmir killings


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