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Explained: Who is Zia Mustafa, the jailed Pakistani terrorist killed during Poonch encounter?

Zia Mustafa was arrested in 2003 by J&K Police as the mastermind of the Nadimarg massacre of Kashmiri Pandits in March that year.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: October 26, 2021 10:58:46 am
Security personnel in position at the encounter site in Bhatadurian area of Mendhar in Poonch district, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021. (PTI Photo)

Early on Sunday, two policemen and an Army soldier were injured in a gun battle between security forces and militants in Poonch, in an ongoing operation to hunt down militants who killed nine Army personnel between October 11 and 14 in a thickly forested area in the hilly terrain of the district.

J&K police said in a statement that “Zia Mustafa, a Pakistani LeT terrorist, was taken to Bhata Durian for identification of terrorist hideout during the ongoing operation…”.  According to the police, during the search “terrorists again opened fire on the joint team of police and army personnel in which two policemen and an army jawan sustained injuries. Mustafa also sustained injuries and could not be extracted from the site due to heavy fire”.

Later, the police confirmed Mustafa’s body had been retrieved from the encounter site.

On Saturday, Mustafa was taken on a 10-day remand by police to Mendhar in Poonch district from Kot Balwal jail from where he is alleged to have been in touch with Lashkar leaders in Pakistan. Mustafa was arrested in 2003 by J&K Police as the mastermind of the Nadimarg massacre of Kashmiri Pandits in March that year.

Mustafa arrest in 2003

Back in 2003, Mustafa’s arrest was announced on April 10 at a press conference by J&K DGP A K Suri in Srinagar. Mustafa was paraded at the press conference as a big catch. Suri said he was a “district commander” of the LeT and had been involved in the killing of 24 Kashmiri Pandits, who had stayed on in their homes in village Nadimarg in Pulwama district.

The police chief said an AK rifle, ammunition, a wireless set, and “documents had also been found on Mustafa, who went by several aliases including Victor.

Mustafa is said to have told police interrogators that he had been asked by the LeT leadership in Pakistan to carry out the massacre.

Pandit massacre in Nadimarg village

The Nadimarg massacre took place at a time when the security situation was improving after more than a decade of militancy. General Pervez Musharraf claimed to have wound up the LeT and Jaish e Mohammed in Pakistan. In backchannel talks, India and Pakistan were inching towards a ceasefire that took place later in 2003.

Most Pandits in Nadimarg had left their homes during the Pandit exodus in 1990. But some 50 people chose to stay on. On March 23, militants dressed in army fatigues lined up 11 men, 11 women and two children outside their homes and shot them dead. After this outrage, the remaining Pandits also left.

While Sunday’s incident has shown that militants are present and possibly have a hideout in the forests in the Bhata Durian area, the fact that Mustafa was in touch with his Pakistani handlers while in Kot Balwal, raises questions about the security at the prison.

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