Uri attack probe: Terrorists locked soldiers in cook house, store

The two buildings, sources said, had been bolted from outside to prevent those inside from escaping before being set on fire, suggesting that the terrorists had a high degree of knowledge about their targets.

Written by Sagnik Chowdhury , Praveen Swami | New Delhi | Updated: September 29, 2016 2:48 pm
 uri, uri attack, uri terror attack, 18 soldiers dead, uri soldiers dead, indian army, indian soldiers dead, NIA, NIA investigation, NIA probe, indian military, terrorism, india pakistan, pakistan terrorism, lashkar, lashkar terrorists, islamic state, names of soldiers, indian express news, uri attack updates, india news, latest news Soldiers guard outside the army base which was attacked suspected militants in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir. PTI photo

Officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), probing Sunday’s terror attack on the Army camp in Uri which left 18 soldiers dead, believe that the terrorists spent at least a day in the mountains above the brigade headquarters complex, observing their target. The bulk of the fatalities, NIA sources told The Indian Express, took place in a cook-house and store room which burned down during the attack. The two buildings, sources said, had been bolted from outside to prevent those inside from escaping before being set on fire, suggesting that the terrorists had a high degree of knowledge about their targets.

 

Launching their attack from the western side of the complex, the four-man assault team first shot a sentry, before three headed towards tents where the soldiers were billeted, and the two buildings. The fourth terrorist moved towards the officers’ mess.

Investigation sources said their hopes of proving that the terrorists began their journey in Pakistan now rest on retrieving data from a damaged Global Positioning System (GPS) set recovered from the attack site.

National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) engineers have been tasked with attempting to recover data from the Garmin eTrex GPS set, one of two which the terrorists are believed to have used to guide them along their hike, cutting across the Haji Pir pass before reaching Uri.

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The second GPS set, Army sources said, was too badly damaged during the fighting for data to be recovered.

Sources said the NIA had also taken DNA samples and fingerprints of the four terrorists before their bodies were buried Monday. “These will be preserved as evidence, and can be used to determine matches in future if necessary,” sources said.

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But until now, little hard evidence has emerged to link the perpetrators of the terror attack in Uri to specific jihadist groups in Pakistan, NIA officials said.

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Four Kalashnikov rifles used by the terrorists, and handed over by the military to investigators Monday, bore no markings or insignia of any kind, sources familiar with the ongoing investigation said. There were also no military markings on barrel-fired grenades destroyed by the Army Monday, or on launchers fitted on the Kalashnikovs.

Lt General Ranbir Singh, Director General of Military Operations, had told reporters Sunday that the weapons had Pakistan markings. NIA officials, however, underlined that syringes, painkillers, other medications and packets of ready-to-eat food carried by the terrorists bore the markings of several Pakistani manufacturers, linking the perpetrators to that country.

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“All groups infiltrating from Pakistan carry this kind of kit,” an NIA official said, “so it doesn’t tell us anything very specific.”

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The ICom-manufactured handset used by the terrorists, intelligence sources said, matched a device recovered from Bahadur Ali, a Pakistani national arrested in July. The device was used to communicate with the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s main control station, code-named Alpha3.

An NIA official said the fact that the Uri attackers used a similar set was not, in itself, conclusive evidence that the Lashkar carried out the strike. “ICom is a well-known manufacturer of high-trade tactical wireless equipment,” he said, “and its products are widely used, even by law enforcement.”

The NIA, the official said, would be seeking details from ICom on the set that was sold.

Responding to The Indian Express,  Alok Mittal, Inspector General and Official Spokesperson of the National Investigation Agency, has said the investigation into the attack on the Army camp in Uri is “only at a preliminary stage” and “conclusions attributed to the NIA investigation are false and misleading, and not supported by any investigational findings”.

“The movements of the terrorists inside the Army camp are still being verified and at this stage, it cannot be said to be the same as published in the newspaper. No seizure of any items including Kalashnikov rifles have been made by the NIA so far, and hence the presence or absence of markings on them have not been ascertained yet. Further, the process of taking over of the case properties are only underway, and have not been completed. The reference to the NIA’s conclusions on the GPS sets, and other case properties in this news report, are thus without basis,” Mittal said. He said the DG, NIA, has not yet visited the attack site at Uri, as was reported.

Referring to the same report, Colonel Abhijit Mitra, Director (Media), Integrated HQ of MoD (Army), said the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) had not claimed that weapons carried by the terrorists had Pakistani markings. He also said “the NIA does not have the mandate to investigate plans and conduct of Indian Army’s counter-terrorist operations. Its mandate, if any, under such circumstances, is to collect, collate and analyse forensic evidence to determine identity of terrorists, collaborators and sponsors, as applicable”.

The Indian Express replies:

The DGMO’s formal statement on the Uri attack made no reference to markings being found on the weapons carried by the terrorists. However, at least nine national television, print and news agencies including Doordarshan, reported the DGMO as saying that the weapons bore Pakistani markings. These reports were never denied until The Indian Express reported it.

Though it calls the report “false and misleading”, the NIA has not denied any of the three statements of fact. Like the Army, the NIA has not denied that no Pakistani markings have been found on the four weapons seized from the Uri attackers. It has said “the process of taking over of the case properties are only underway, and have not been completed”.

The NIA does not deny that a number of Army personnel died of asphyxiation in buildings bolted from the outside. The NIA denies it has possession of a GPS set found at the site. The report, however, stated that the GPS set was with the NTRO, a different organisation.

The report erroneously stated that the Director General of NIA, Sharad Kumar, had visited Uri. The error is regretted.