Srinagar: A pre-dawn strike at the Air Force base in Pathankot on Saturday by five terrorists allegedly belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror outfit left three soldiers dead, before all the attackers were gunned down. This was the second major attack carried out by JeM in last five weeks in India.
On 25 November 2015, like the Pathankot attack, three terrorists belonging to same outfit carried out a similar attack at the break of dawn at a Gorkha Rifles Camp along Kalsuri Ridge in Tangdhar area near the Line of Control (LoC) in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, leaving a military contractor dead before all the attackers were gunned down. The bags recovered from the slain terrorists had the markings of ‘Afzal Guru squad.’
"They are from Jaish. Afzal Guru squad was written on their bags and the ultras are perhaps trying to use the name of parliament attack convict to drum up support," Lieutenant General Satish Dua, general officer commanding (GoC) 15 Corps, said.
“JeM formed the Al-Shohada Brigade or Shaheed Afzal Guru Squad following Guru’s hanging,” an intelligence officer told Firstpost. Guru, a Kashmiri convict in 2001 attack on the parliament, was hanged inside Tihar jail for his alleged role in the deadly terror attack.
“Afzal Guru Squad carried out the attacks on the same day they enter India, most of them pre-dawn. Noticeable things (sic) is most of these attacks were pre-dawn and suicide attacks meant for high-value targets,” the intelligence officer, added.
On 5 December 2014, two days ahead of the Prime Ministers visit to Jammu and Kashmir, JeM terrorists stormed an Army camp in Uri town of Baramulla district, killing 11 security personnel, including a Lt Col. This too was a pre-dawn attack by heavily armed militants that left eight army men and three policemen dead. The attack was carried at 3.10 am, six terrorists were also killed in the attack at the army camp, which is 20 km from the LoC. Security agencies later found names of ‘Afzal Guru squad’ inscribed on the bags of the attackers.
“When the attackers reached Mohra their GPS device stopped working. They wanted to enter the NHPC base in Mohra, had they been able to enter its high walls it would been a disaster. But they lost their way and found themselves crossing the river and into the army camp,” a senior army officer posted in area at that time, told Firstpost.
The recent attacks carried out by the outfit have once again raised fear among security agencies about renewed attempts being made by JeM to regroup not just in Kashmir valley, but carry out attack beyond its borders in main land India. The attack on the Air Force base in Pathankot on Saturday brings credence to the worst fears of the security agencies.
After the four long hour-long gun battle on Saturday morning, security forces were able to neutralize the terrorists in Pathankot, this, despite an alert by the intelligence agencies about the possibility of a terror attack. Had the security not been on high alert, the causality figures could have been more.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh while addressing the media in New Delhi said that he won’t rule out the involvement of Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pathankot attack. “The case will be probed by the NIA but the possibility of JeM being behind the attack cannot be ruled out,” he said.
JeM's presence in Kashmir
The outfit's presence in Kashmir valley remains low, but if the recent incidents of violence are an indication, the spike signals a fresh push by the outfit to make a comeback in the Kashmir valley.
The outfit was on the verge of extinction in Kashmir in mid-2013 when two of its three last surviving commanders were killed in that year, leaving the outfit with a total cadre capacity of eight militants in Kashmir, the lowest since it was formed 13 years ago, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Police.
After the loss of two of its most senior commanders in Kashmir, the outfit tried to reinforce its ranks by sending a batch of at least eight militants operating in south Kashmir. Many of them were killed by security forces.
JeM, a Pakistan-based militant group, which has been operating in Kashmir valley since 2000, is headed by Maulana Masood Azhar, who was released in exchange for hostages of hijacked IC-814 Indian Airlines plane hijacked by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Azhar was arrested in Srinagar in 1994 on terrorism charges.
Jaish has been accused for the 13 December, 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament in New Delhi. The outfit was banned by the Indian government under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) on 25 October, 2001. It was also banned by Pakistan in 2002 during the Pervez Musharraf regime.
The outfit carried out the first suicide attack in Kashmir in April 2000 when an 18-year-old Srinagar boy detonated a car-bomb outside the Army’s 15 Corps headquarters in Srinagar, killing one person and injuring seven others. It was also for the first time that a militant laced with explosives blew himself up in the conflict-ridden state.
The outfit targeted the Army base again in December that year when a suicide bomber, who was later identified as Mohammad Bilal, 24, from Birmingham, England, blew himself up. The group was also involved in several high profile attacks inside and outside Kashmir including the attack on Parliament in New Delhi and the state legislative Assembly.
While intelligence official say the outfit has the strength of about seven to eight members in the Valley, after two members of the outfit were killed on 4 October, last year, in an encounter with security forces in Awantipura area of south Kashmir.