Shujaat Bukhari murder: J&K police probe makes little headway, editor had ignored warning on threat to life

Srinagar: Four days after the assassination of prominent journalist Shujaat Bukhari, the Jammu and Kashmir Police has failed to make any headway in the case. With the attackers at large, police are grappling to find any clues on their whereabouts, despite all the entry and exit points of the capital Srinagar city being monitored by CCTV cameras.

"The investigations are on. We will soon come to some conclusions about the attackers based on scientific evidence. Their entry route into the Press Enclave is a bit hazy, but we know which route they took to leave the place," Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) of Central Kashmir, VK Birdi, told Firstpost.

File image of Shujaat Bukhari. Twitter/@bukharishujaat

File image of Shujaat Bukhari. Twitter/@bukharishujaat

The Jammu and Kashmir Police has formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under Virdi to probe the killing of the editor of Rising Kashmir. It has now come to light that the police had informed Bukhari about a possible attack on his life and advised him to take "extreme precautions". But the peacenik apparently brushed aside the warning as it wasn’t something new. Bukhari had already faced three assassination bids.

The fresh warning, as some police officers said, looked fatal. The police were initially looking at the possibility of one of the three assassins being Pakistani militant Naveed Jutt, who escaped from a Srinagar hospital. The person riding pillion on the motorcycle, whose face is covered by the third attacker, is seen wearing a watch on his right hand, done mostly by Pakistani militants, and his body appearance resembled that of Jutt. The third attacker is seen covering the face of the attacker, who is sitting in the middle of the bike, wherever the CCTV cameras appear to record their movement.

At least three senior intelligence officers told Firstpost on Sunday the other two attackers might be locals in whose house the Pakistani attacker might have taken refuge before executing the attack. "There was a buzz of an attack in Srinagar for three days before Bukhari was killed but no one had any idea where the strike was going to take place," one officer told Firstpost.

The threat was conveyed to the editor after a vitriolic campaign was started against him on social media and blogs. In one of those blogs, Bukhari was presented a man of "agencies" mandated to mould opinion on the protracted Kashmir problem. He was shown by the anonymous writer of the blog as someone in collusion with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and the lead organiser of a Dubai conference last year, which had called for cessation of all hostilities in Jammu and Kashmir.

Those who participated in the conference were denounced by militant outfits as working on the "payrolls" of Indian agencies. "He received threatening phone calls after the conference, but perhaps did not took them seriously," said another officer.

The hate campaign against Bukhari had intensified in recent weeks. Besides a blog, he was trolled on a social media especially on Twitter.

"In Kashmir," said a senior journalist, "it takes just a random post to assassinate someone’s character. There are some people around who just take pleasure in maligning the character of those who, as public figures, are doing their bit for Kashmir’s peaceful resolution. In case of Bukhari, this campaign was even spiteful because as a frequent traveller to world conferences and seminars, he was seen as some collaborator tasked to challenge the conventional wisdom on Kashmir."

Today, as the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s SIT sleuths are minutely examining these details, they are likely to crack the whip on the online propagandists whose vicious and vitriolic campaign maligned the editor’s image to the extent of jeopardising his life.

"These days in Kashmir," said a senior police officer and a long time friend of Bukhari, "malicious opinions, perceptions and judgements are being peddled on social media to show some people in bad light. Such brazen and criminal viewpoints either make or break a person. I see my dearest friend Shujaat’s case as no different."

While only an impartial investigation will unearth whether the online venom spewed against the editor had anything to do with his murder, the police have not achieved any breakthrough in the case. The suspense over the identity of the killers persists despite police facing tremendous pressure to deliver on the veteran journalist’s murder case.

Many police officers here feel the online hate campaign run against Bukhari might have been started to minimise the effect of his murder and to mould public perception. Fifty-year-old Bukhari was leaving his office in Srinagar’s Press Enclave on Thursday evening when three motorcycle-borne assailants fired dozens of rounds, killing him and his two security guards inside his SUV. He was headed home in the upscale Humhama locality to break the fast with his wife and children.

The only ‘breakthrough’ achieved so far is the arrest of a youth from Saderbal area of Srinagar. Captured in a video clip, Zubair Qadri, the arrested youth—sporting white kurta and skullcap—could be seen picking up a pistol of one of the editor’s PSO and sneaking out of the crime scene. Qadri had shaved his beard when police arrested him from his residence a day later with public help. They recovered the blood-stained white Kurta he was wearing at the time of the incident. The pistol of the PSO and mobile phone of Bukhari was also recovered.

Top police sources said there is nothing concrete against Qadri to show he was linked with the hit-team who arrived in Press Enclave to kill Bukhari but he has not been given a clean chit and is likely to face prosecution for stealing the PSO’s pistol from the crime scene.

"The motorcycle-borne youths had apparently taken extreme precautions to hide their identities. Wherever CCTVS are installed in the city, they have kept their faces concealed. It is the most meticulous attack carried out in years in Kashmir where the attackers were aware even of the positions of CCTV cameras in the city," sources said.

Even as the SIT held its first meeting on Saturday, the sleuths are under tremendous pressure to deliver results in the case. Besides being an influential Kashmiri editor, Bukhari was the brother of Syed Basharat Bukhari, a minister in the Mehbooba Mufti government.

Also, two major world bodies of editors and publishers have written to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, conveying their "grave concern" over Bukhari’s assassination while seeking investigations in the case.

"We ask that you take all necessary steps to ensure that local and national authorities carry out a quick and thorough investigation and bring the perpetrators — and masterminds — to justice," the letter read. "We urge you to do everything possible to end the hostile media environment in Jammu and Kashmir so that journalists are able to work without fear of violence." World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum representing 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in over 120 countries, with an aim to safeguard the rights of journalists, wrote to Modi.

"The police will do its job,” said senior PDP leader and horticulture minister, Abdul Rehman Veeri. Sounding tough, he said the state government will make sure the assailants are given exemplary punishment for the reprehensible crime. "We will make an example out of them."

Updated Date: Jun 18, 2018 19:57 PM

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