Among the militants who escaped the nine-day encounter in the Bhatidhar forests near Mendhar in Poonch recently,was Saifullah Qari,a top commander of the Jaish-e-Mohammed,and the alleged mastermind of the July 5,2005 terrorist attack in Ayodhya. Saifullah got away along with six other commanders of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed,well-informed sources have told The Indian Express.
Senior police officers were tightlipped over the identity of the militants who escaped. Saifullah is already dead in police records: on August 11,2007,it was announced that Qari had been shot dead in Janipura,on the outskirts of Jammu,by a joint team of the Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi Police.
Sources,who had worked for nearly a month on information that ultimately led to the Bhatidhar operation,said Saifullah and the other commanders had assembled at the jungle hideout on December 24 to plan a joint strategy for the border districts of Rajouri and Poonch. The date for the meeting had been fixed a month in advance,and police were working on an intercept about it.
Saifullah was accompanied by his Jaish colleague Mohammad Abdullah. The Lashkar was represented by five senior commanders: Daud bin Fazl Jat,Ibrahim Abu,Abu Saleem,Abu Suhail and Abu Qasim. The Lashkar divisional commander,Abu Umar,was,however,not at the meeting when the security forces first engaged the group.
A senior police officer who wished to stay anonymous said Saifullah has been in the police list of militants active in the Surankote and Mendhar areas for almost a decade. Before that,until around 1999,he operated in Doda,the officer said.
I-G,Jammu zone,K Rajindra said as per police records,the Saifullah Qari linked to the Ayodhya attack has been dead since 2007,and the Mendhar Saifullah could be a different man.
The Qari who is reported to have escaped from Bhatidhar forests along with other militants may be a different person as militant commanders often operate under the assumed names of their slain predecessors so as to keep their terror alive among the local people, he said,adding he would have to check the tails before he can say any more.
But sources said the man killed in the Janipura,Jammu encounter of August 2007 was actually not Saifullah.
He was Abu Ziyafa,a resident of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,they said. Ziyafa and Zaffar Iqbal who too was killed in the encounter had been sent from Mendhar to Jammu by Saifullah. Saifullah is a long-haired man in his 40s,the sources said,whereas the man killed in Janipura in 2007 was bald.
On July 5,2005,six men identified as Abu Umar,Arfat,Mohammed Amin,Zubair,Arshad Ali and Arif tried to storm the makeshift Ram temple in Ayodhya,but were foiled by security forces.