Jammu and Kashmir terror funding case: NIA's 'water-tight' probe tightens noose around Hurriyat leaders

After months of thorough investigations and interrogations into the Jammu and Kashmir terror funding case, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) may have finally built a "watertight" case against the Hurriyat leaders involved.

According to a Times of India report, as many as five accused and witnesses in the case have recording statements under Section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code, detailing the transfer of funds sourced from Pakistan to top separatist leaders. The statements, as per law, are admissible as evidence in court.

The NIA, reportedly, did not want to rush through things and approached the investigation in a thorough, step-by-step manner. "In the past, the rush has cost investigators dear and cases had to be closed. This time around, the evidence is rock solid and there is no political interference what so ever," an NIA officer said.

File image of Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Reuters

File image of Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Reuters

In addition to the recorded statements, the NIA has also gathered documentary proof seized during NIA raids on the premises of one of the arrested persons. The documents uncover payments made by the Kashmiri conduit to the who's who of Hurriyat, from funds received from Pakistan-based sources via the hawala route, the Times of India report added.

A source quoted in the report said that the statements and documentary evidence could help nail the role of Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, moderate Hurriyat chief Mirwaiz Umer Farooq as well as JKLF boss Yasin Malik in funding violent protests in the Valley at the behest of Pakistan-based masterminds.

'Water-tight case'

Though the NIA has looked into terror funding in the past, the probe this time saw an elevation in seriousness. A similar probe had to be dropped back in 2016 for the lack of evidence and the premier investigation agency did not want to repeat the same mistake.

This time around, the amount of evidence gathered – documents seized and the huge number of arrests – suggests that the NIA is going for a 'water-tight' approach to hail the Hurriyat leaders.

Through the course of its investigation, NIA conducted several raids in the residences of Hurriyat leaders and made several arrests.

In June this year, NIA had carried out searches at 14 places in Kashmir and eight places in the national capital in connection with terror funding. Around eight hawala dealers and traders in the national capital were also raided.

Six Hurriyat members were arrested from Srinagar and one was nabbed from Delhi. Among those arrested, six of them including Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani's son-in-law Altaf Ahmed Shah (also known as Altaf Fantoosh), Geelani's close aides Naeem Khan, Merazuddin Kalwal and Pir Saifulla, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat spokesman Ayaz Akbar, and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq's close aide and spokesperson Shahid-ul-Islam were arrested in Srinagar. Farooq Ahmed Dar alias 'Bitta Karate' was arrested in Delhi.

Geelani's sons questioned

In August, the NIA, while tightening its noose around separatist leaders, questioned Geelani's sons, Naeem and Naseem two times within a fortnight.

The brothers were being questioned in the terror funding case which named Saeed, leader of the Pakistan-based Jamaat-ud-Dawa and banned terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, as an accused, sources said.

The elder son Nayeem is a surgeon by profession, while Naseem is an employee of the Jammu and Kashmir government.

According to officials, the two were asked to bring certain documents related to financial transactions that have come under the scanner of the NIA.

Watali connection

NIA officials also conducted searches at 12 locations in Srinagar, Baramulla Kupwara, Pulwama and Handwara, which included the residence of a relative of a ruling PDP MLC.

The locations raided included properties of relatives of Zahoor Watali, a prominent businessman in the Valley and a known Hurriyat supporter.

Following the raid, NIA arrested Watali, who is considered to be one of Geelani's top aides. After the search, a senior NIA official said that a lot of incriminating material, suspect financial records, property-related documents and electronic devices including mobile phones, pen drives and hard drives were seized during the searches.

He added that some of the seized documents related to the receipt of money from suspect foreign sources and its subsequent distribution to "certain persons" in the Kashmir Valley.

Earlier in June, Watali's residences in Gurugram, Delhi and Srinagar were also raided as part of the investigation.

Watali was questioned further by the NIA regarding "incriminating" financial transaction details and property-related records seized during the searches.

NIA also asked Income Tax authorities to carry out a detailed study of the accounts of the businessman, comparing them with his tax returns.

Crackdown on hawala dealers

Swooping down on traders and alleged hawala dealers, the NIA on 6 September carried out searches at 27 places in various parts of the Valley and Delhi and seized nearly Rs 2.20 crore in cash in raids.

Diaries pertaining to contacts of hawala operators/traders, ledger books containing accounts of cross-border LOC trade of various trading companies have been recovered. Some details of bank accounts of Jammu and Kashmir were also recovered, a NIA spokesman said.

These raids came just a day after the NIA arrested two persons, including a freelance photo-journalist, who allegedly indulged in stone-pelting and mobilising support against the security personnel through social media.

Confessional statements as evidence

On 19 September, the NIA managed to secure recorded confessional statements on the flow of money, especially from Pakistan, from two persons, officials said.

The statements made before a judicial magistrate helped tighten the case against separatists.

One of them was arrested on 24 July after his house was raided by the central probe agency. He gave a detailed account of how funds were sent from Pakistan-based terror organisations as well as its external snooping agency ISI to separatists based in the Valley, the officials said.

The other person who has recorded his confessional statement is a close aide of Geelani.

Recently, the NIA had issued summons to a Kashmir university PhD student, the head of a traders body and two Hurriyat leaders to appear before it in connection with the case.

Yaseen Khan of Kashmir Traders and Marketing Federation, Aala Fazil, pursuing a doctorate from Kashmir University, and leaders of pro-Pakistan Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference, Abdul Hameed Magrey and Wali Mohammed, were asked to appear at the NIA headquarters in New Delhi.

Rashid Engineer summoned

Independent Jammu and Kashmir MLA Sheikh Abdul Rashid, popularly known as Rashid Engineer, was summoned by the NIA for questioning on 28 September.

Rashid, who is expected to appear for questioning this Tuesday, is the first mainstream politician to be summoned in the case, NIA officials said.

His name had cropped up during the interrogation of Watali. Rashid, an independent MLA from Lagate in North Kashmir, has been denying any involvement in the case and has appealed to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly speaker to initiate an inquiry.

This is for the first time since the rise of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir in the early 1990s that a central probe agency has conducted raids in connection with the funding of terrorist and separatist groups.

The searches were also part of NIA probe into the alleged irregularities in cross-LoC trade. In this connection, the NIA had carried out searches on traders at trade facilitation centres at Salamabad in Kashmir region's North Kashmir's Baramulla district and Chakan-da-bagh in Poonch district of the Jammu region.

During its probe, the NIA found that after clothes and 'dupattas', California almonds has emerged as the new product in cross-LoC trade in Jammu and Kashmir that is being used a mode of terror-funding.

According to the cross-LoC trade agreement between India and Pakistan, products grown on both sides of Jammu and Kashmir will be exchanged under a barter system. The products included 'badam giri' that is grown in parts of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK).

The traders from PoK were sending and receiving California Almonds and it is alleged that the money was used for funding of terror groups in the state.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Oct 02, 2017 13:35 PM

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