'It is revenge for Afzal Guru': JeM makes deadly comeback with squad named after Parliament attack convict

Jaish-e-Mohammad has made a deadly comeback into militancy in Kashmir with a lethal fidayeen squad that it named after Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.

The Afzal Guru Squad first surfaced with a series of devastating raids in mid-2014 on army installations along the Line of Control and the International Border in Jammu and Kashmir.

Inside the Indian Army bases, the squad left their signatures in blood. They left a terse message—“it is revenge for Afzal Guru.”

The attacks were repeated with increased lethality. The first raids were carried out by members of the squad against army bases in Mohra and Tangdhar in north Kashmir, then in Kathua and Samba in Jammu division. The most devastating attack took place at the Pathankot airbase; putting the brakes on a fragile Indo-Pakistan bonhomie.

The announcement of the formation of the Afzal Guru Squad was made by Jaish-e-Mohammad founder and militant cleric Maulana Masood Azhar, whose enmity with India dates back to three decades.

Azhar had travelled to India only once on a Portuguese passport in 1993 and was arrested in south Kashmir within months. He was then the general secretary of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.

File photo of Maulana Masood Azhar. AFP

File photo of Maulana Masood Azhar. AFP

After spending the next seven years in Indian jails, Azhar was released – along with two other militants, British-Pakistani Omar Saeed and Kashmiri Mushtaq Zargar - in exchange for hostages of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane IC-814 in December 1999.

Within months after his release, he introduced Jaish-e-Mohammad to Kashmir with a car bomb, driven and exploded by a 17-year-old Srinagar boy Aafaq Shah at the gates of Army 15 Corps headquarters.

Jaish-e-Mohammad’s deadly comeback changed the equations on the ground in Kashmir as the militant group initiated a wave of attacks against government installations and security forces.

However, the change in the foreign and internal policy of Pakistan in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks brought Jaish-e-Mohammad’s campaign of blood and fury to a halt. By the turn of the next decade, Jaish-e-Mohammad’s footprint in Kashmir was erased.

In February 2013, a shock announcement of the hanging of north Kashmir resident Afzal Guru in New Delhi’s Tihar jail gave a new lease of life to Jaish-e-Mohammad. Guru, allegedly a close associate of December 2001 Parliament attack mastermind Ghazi Baba, became Jaish’s new icon.

A year later, on 26 January, 2014, Azhar released Guru’s lengthy commentary on Kashmir that he had penned in Tihar jail and in which he had made an advocacy for the Taliban.

At the inauguration, Azhar made a dangerous announcement: the Afzal Guru Squad.

The latest attack carried out by the Afzal Guru Squad took place at a paramilitary base in the highly fortified Humhama area outside Srinagar city. The three attackers who penetrated the headquarters of 182 Battalion of Border Security Forces last week were part of a batch of seventeen militants who had infiltrated into the Kashmir valley in the midsummer this year and established bases in south Kashmir.

Seven to ten members of the batch – which includes at least one more fidayeen squad — are still untraceable.

“Six to seven members of the group are still alive and we need to neutralize them,” said Inspector General of Police, Munir Khan.

The entry of Jaish-e-Mohammad with its Afzal Guru Squad into the militancy in Kashmir has come at a time when militants of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba have come under intense pressure following the back-to-back killing of their senior leadership.

The group, when its formation was announced had more than 300 hundred fidayeen ready to carry out attacks in India, according to a speech delivered by Azhar in January 2014.

The attack in Humhama on the BSF camp came after three militants from AGS carried out a similar attack on District Police Lines (DPL) on 26 August, that left eight personnel of the Kashmir Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) dead, in southern Kashmir district.

“This is the revenge for Afzal Guru,” read a message on a pillar of one of the damaged buildings of District Police Lines.

The life of a member of the Afzal Guru Squad, according to senior police and intelligence officials, once the member leaves the base camp in Pakistan, is not more than 24 hours in Kashmir.

Military intelligence officials have observed that the preference in the initial stage of the group was to carry out attack close to the Line of Control. In most of attacks the members of the group would leave their marking on a bag or on a wall after carrying out the attack.

However, after the attack in Humhama and the second one in DPL Pulwama, the group seems to be slowly moving towards the hinterland, and more importantly Srinagar.

“They are not here to publish their pictures on Facebook or upload videos as Kashmiri militants would do, they come here to die and it is very difficult to stop them from doing so,” a military intelligence official told Firstpost recently.

The biggest attack the group carried out in the Kashmir valley was the one in Uri that left 19 Army soldiers dead, as also the four attackers.

Updated Date: Oct 08, 2017 09:55 AM

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