In January earlier this year, when a militant commander was killed in an encounter in the Hajin area of Bandipore district, it rattled the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Identified as Musaib, he was the nephew of Lashkar-e-Toiba’s chief and alleged mastermind of the 2006 Mumbai attacks Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Now, sources have told The Indian Express, that Musaib’s younger brother Umair alias Osama has replaced him in north Kashmir.
This is the third member of the Lakhvi’s family who has joined Lashkar’s ranks and come to fight in Kashmir — in 2007, Lakhvi’s 20-year-old son Mohammad Qasim was killed in a fierce gunbattle with the Army and J-K police. Sources say that Qasim had crossed over to the Valley in July 2006 and was based in Bandipore where “although he operated as an ordinary militant, the then Lashkar district commander Abu Wafa (who was killed in the gunbattle with him) would always shadow him like a bodyguard”.
In parallel, sources said, around 10 Lashkar militants and commanders who had “ex-filtrated” after spending years in Kashmir are also back and the area in the outskirts of Srinagar city, the Harwan-Dhara belt, where Lashkar’s senior people used to be stationed, has been “activated again”. Sources said that Umair is part of a group of six Pakistani Lashkar militants who are operating in the Hajin area.
“This group is led by Mehmood and they are also accompanied by two local militants,’’ the source said. A source told The Indian Express that one of the Lashkar commanders in Bandipore district has moved to south Kashmir a week ago. “Zargam, who was active in Hajin, has gone with one other foreign militant to South Kashmir. We are trying to find out whether the second militant is Umair,’’ a source said. Inspector General of J&K Police, Kashmir zone, Muneer Khan confirmed that Musaib’s younger brother Umair is active in Hajin but denied that he has shifted his base to South Kashmir. “He is very much present in Hajin belt. They (Lashkar) have been trying to bring a consignment of weapons to South (from north Kashmir) but haven’t been able to do so,’’ he said.
Lakhvi’s nephew Musaib was Lashkar’s divisional commander when he was killed in an encounter in Hajin earlier this year. Sources said that he had infiltrated into Kashmir in August 2015 through the Gurez sector and was supposed to head to South Kashmir. In October 2015, the then Lashkar’s Kashmir chief and Udhampur attack mastermind Abu Qasim had gone to Bandipore to receive Musaib and his associates. But Abu Qasim had to abandon his plans and return to his south Kashmir base when he had an encounter with a J&K police team who were following him to Bandipore in a civilian vehicle.
A key officer involved in J&K police’s counter-insurgency operations Mohammad Altaf Dar — called ‘laptop’ because he was tech-savvy — was killed in that encounter. Lashkar subsequently sent another militant to shift Musaib and his group to South Kashmir but he, too, was killed in an encounter in Bandipore. Lashkar’s Valley chief Abu Qasim was killed in an encounter in Kulgam on December 24, 2015. Abu Qasim’s brother, sources say, infiltrated soon after his killing. “He was active in Bandipore till July 2016 but shifted to Lolab area later,’’ a source said.
One of the militants suspected to have returned, sources said, is Shahzad Khan alias Abdullah Bhai, a former Pakistan Army captain who joined Lashkar in 2001 and was active in Bandipore area, was arrested by J&K Police in Srinagar outskirts in June 2007. This Lashkar commander, who according to sources had a change of heart in jail where he wrote a book questioning jihad in Kashmir, was subsequently repatriated to Pakistan. “Yes, there are reports (that he is back) and we are ascertaining the authenticity of those reports,’’ IGP Khan said. Sources said that Abdullah Bhai had married in Bandipore which could be one reason why he may have returned.
Though IGP Khan denied the reports, sources reveal that Abu Hurrerah, a longtime Lashkar commander who left in 2015, has also returned. Similarly, Khalid who had gone back in 2007-8 too has returned last year. Sources say he is active in the Harwan belt. IGP Khan, however, said that Khalid, who was earlier with Lashkar and has now joined Jaish, is active in north Kashmir.
Sources also said that Nadeem Babar, one of the oldest Lashkar militants, is back from across. Babar, shot by his own men in the foot, had been active in Harwan for five years before shifting to Bandipore and subsequently leaving for Pakistan. Sources said that Daud who was active until 2007 is back in Kupwara. There are also reports, sources say, that Ghazi Umar Pathan who left in 2008 has returned a month ago and is currently in Ganderbal. There are, however, conflicting reports from different agencies about the re-entry of Babar, Daud and Pathan. J&K Police’s executive wing denies these reports.
Sources say that there were reports of a militant with Caucasian features in the Safapora area and that there was a video of this group too. IGP Khan said he is confident that this video wasn’t taken here but somewhere across the border.
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