Jammu and Kashmir bank robberies reflect just how hard militants were hit by demonetisation

The civilian uprising in the Kashmir Valley is increasingly coming to the aide of militants who, in a growing trend, loot cash from banks to finance and thereby execute their attacks on security forces. The number of such robbery attempts by cash-strapped militant outfits have only increased in the past few weeks. But it is also the trend of gun-snatching that drives militants to such encounters.

No less than five dozen such attempts have been made since 8 July last year, after the security forces killed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, and during the unrest that followed. Most of these attempts of robbery and gun-snatching were carried out in south Kashmir, said the police. Monday’s tragic killing of five policemen and two bank guards in Pumbai village of Kulgam district, allegedly by militants, was another desperate attempt to loot weapons from the security personnel accompanying the van of J&K Bank.

Suspected militants opened fire at the Jammu and Kashmir Bank cash van in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. The militants allegedly fired at the van when it was coming back towards the main town of Kulgam, after depositing cash in an ATM.

 Jammu and Kashmir bank robberies reflect just how hard militants were hit by demonetisation

Security forces personnel inspect the site after suspected militants killed five policemen and two security guards while looting a cash van. PTI

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti condemned the killing by unknown assailants and said their killing reflects the dangerous turn that the society in Kashmir is taking.

“There was no cash in the van. They (militants) fired at the van, killing seven of them. The policemen and staff were travelling back to Kulgam town after depositing cash in another place,” Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Kulgam, Shridhar Patil, told Firstpost on the phone.

The desperation of militant organisations to loot weapons and banks is a new trend in the Kashmir Valley. There has been a dangerous increase in the number of robberies since last year after the Narendra Modi-led government took measure to scrap old high-value banknotes and introducing new ones in November. The police in Kashmir say there have been more than two dozen incidents of bank robbery or attempts made by the militants to loot ATMs — most of them in south Kashmir — since last June. At least 60 weapons have been snatched from security forces since June last year.

Militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attack and said its men decamped with four rifles after the attack. However, the spokesperson of the outfit said militants didn’t kill the two bank employees, adding that they “were shot dead by CRPF personnel” who were accompanying them.

"We didn’t attack the vehicle with an intent to loot the cash. We have enough cash. We condemn the killing of two bank employees and want to clarify that they were shot dead by CRPF personnel and not by militants," Burhanuddin, the Hizbul Mujahideen's operational spokesperson, told a news agency.

On Friday last week, security forces foiled a bank robbery in the Mehandi Kadal area of Anantnag district, when they apprehended suspected militant Muneeb Ahmad Malla from Shopian district, who had entered a Jammu and Kashmir Bank branch with his accomplice and opened fired inside the premises. When the security personnel deployed in the bank tried to apprehend the militants, they opened fire, leaving the CRPF head constable injured. One of the militants, who was carrying a weapon, managed to escape.

On 19 April, gunmen barged into a Jammu and Kashmir Bank branch in Shopian district and looted Rs five lakh in cash. The gunmen later fled from the spot in a car.

Two days later, unidentified gunmen stole a State Bank of India (SBI) ATM in Anantnag district containing Rs 12.18 lakh. This was the second incident of a bank being targeted in south Kashmir within three days.

Director-General of Police SP Vaid recently said that it was because of the demonetisation that militants were carrying bank robberies and the security agencies have put a lid on the hawala operators, who used to supply money to the militant outfits. "Militants are short of money and are finding way and means to collect it and looting banks and ATM’s is part of that desperation," Vaid said.

Throughout the six months of unrest, amid chaos on the streets, militants carried out many robberies in south Kashmir. But as soon as the situation started getting better and presence of forces increased, the number of incidents came down.

But over the past few weeks, the intensity has only increased with the fresh attack on Monday, although most of the attempts by militants at looting cash failed after forces scuttled their moves. “It is a desperate attempt to loot public money for terror activity,” Patil, the SPP, said, "But most of the attempts have been either foiled or forces have arrived at the right time."

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Updated Date: May 02, 2017 08:52:37 IST

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