Since the end of October 2016, armed robbers have struck at various branches of banks in Jammu and Kashmir, looting nearly Rs 92 lakh in 13 separate attacks. There have been 4 incidents in 4 days this month, beginning with the bloody attack on a cash van on May 1 during which militants shot dead 5 policemen and 2 bank security guards, and including 2 attacks in 2 hours in adjacent villages in Pulwama on Wednesday.
In 2 of the 13 incidents, the gunmen failed to loot the banks they had targeted — on one occasion after bank staff raised an alarm and, on another, after their attempt to snatch a CRPF jawan’s weapon was unsuccessful. The only loss of lives occurred on May 1; no cash was, however, looted on that occasion.
All of these incidents, except one on October 28, took place after the government withdrew Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes on November 8, 2016.
The incidents coincide with the spike in militancy and mass protests that followed the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani last July. The widespread agitation and street clashes with police and security forces over 6 months saw many youngsters join the ranks of militants, especially in south Kashmir. The government has told Parliament that there have been around 88 new local recruits to militancy in the period after Burhan Wani’s killing; sources in the security forces, however, say the number could be more than 250.
All except two of the successful and attempted bank and cash van robberies have taken place in south Kashmir. Police and security agencies have so far not been able to arrest the men behind the heists.
Police say militants, who are facing a cash crunch even as their ranks are swelling, are targeting banks in south Kashmir. The Hizb has claimed responsibility for the Kulgam attack in which 7 police and bank security personnel were killed, but has said they did not carry out the attack for money. In several cases, the bank heists have been followed by rounds of stone-throwing by local people as police have tried to reach the spot.
OCTOBER 28: 4 masked men, 3 of whom were reportedly wearing uniforms of bank security personnel, forced their way into a branch of Jammu & Kashmir Bank in Rohmoo village in Pulwama, and escaped with Rs 7 lakh.
NOVEMBER 21: 3-4 gunmen wearing pherans robbed a J&K Bank branch in village Malpora, close to the shrine of Chrar-e-Sharif in Budgam district, of Rs 14 lakh. 4 people were arrested for allegedly providing logistic support to the robbers; police accused them of being overground workers for militants.
NOVEMBER 23: The biggest of the heists was carried out at Agralsarthal in Kishtwar in the state’s Jammu region, where Rs 40 lakh was looted from a branch of J&K Bank.
DECEMBER 8: 2 unidentified gunmen entered a J&K Bank branch at Arihal village in Kulgam, south Kashmir, and made off with Rs 8 lakh.
DECEMBER 15: 4 armed gunmen entered the J&K Bank branch at Ratnipora in Pulwama, south Kashmir, and looted Rs 11 lakh. Soon after the militants left, stone-throwing started in the area, preventing police from moving in.
FEBRUARY 16: 3-4 unidentified gunmen looted Rs 3 lakh from a branch of J&K Bank at Turkawangum village in Shopian. They escaped by the time police arrived.
FEBRUARY 20: 2 men escaped with Rs 2 lakh after threatening staff at the J&K Bank branch in village Mirgund in Budgam district.
APRIL 19: Masked gunmen entered a bank at village Harman in Shopian; however, their attempt to loot the bank was foiled after the staff raised an alarm.
APRIL 27: Police arrested a militant of the Hizbul Mujahideen at Mehdi Kadal, Anantnag, after he tried to snatch the rifle of a CRPF jawan who was guarding the bank, the police said. A second militant managed to escape.
MAY 1: In the deadliest of these strikes targeting banks and their money, militants attacked a cash van of J&K Bank at Pumbia village 5 km from Kulgam town, and killed 5 policemen and 2 bank guards. The militants snatched 4 rifles from the dead policemen. There was no cash in the van.
MAY 2: A masked gunman entered a branch of the Ellaquai Dehati Bank at Kader village near Kulgam town and decamped with Rs 65,000 after showing a pistol to bank staffers. A cordon-and-search operation by the police and Army failed to nab the robber.
MAY 3: 3 masked men escaped after looting Rs 5 lakh from a branch of the Ellaquai Dehati Bank at Waghema in Pulwama.
MAY 3: Within two hours of the robbery at the Ellaquai Dehati Bank, gunmen looted Rs 1.3 lakh from a branch of J&K Bank in the neighbouring village of Nehama, also in Pulwama.