Sunjwan attack: Intel agencies had warned of possible JeM terror strike

Intelligence inputs had warned of an attack by JeM around the death anniversary of Afzal Guru. Guru was hanged on February 9, 2013.

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | New Delhi | Updated: February 10, 2018 3:01:14 pm
While security agencies expected an attack in Kashmir Valley, the terrorists carried out the strike in Jammu on Saturday. (Express photo/Praveen Khanna) While security agencies expected an attack in Kashmir Valley, the militants carried out the strike in Jammu on Saturday. (Express photo/Praveen Khanna)

Despite a possible terror threat, security forces failed to prevent the terror attack on the Sunjwan army camp in Jammu by suspected Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militants on Saturday morning. Two jawans, including a junior commissioner officer (JCO), were killed and four persons were injured in the attack. Speaking to The Indian Express, Directorate General of Jammu and Kashmir Police Shesh Paul Vaid said, “Intercepts suggest that JeM is responsible for the attack.” READ LIVE UPDATES HERE

Intelligence inputs had warned of an attack by JeM around the death anniversary of Afzal Guru. Guru was hanged on February 9, 2013 while Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front founder Maqbool Bhat was hanged in Tihar jail on February 11, 1984.

While security agencies expected an attack in Kashmir Valley, the militants carried out the strike in Jammu. On Thursday, Vaid had told The Indian Express that security forces are taking necessary precautions in view of the alert in the Valley. “We are always on alert. But as you know, February 9 and 11 are important days in Kashmir, so we are taking all precautions,” Vaid had said.

A senior police officer had told The Indian Express that there was an ‘assessment’ by multiple agencies on the possible strike by the terror group around Guru’s anniversary. “JeM was active for a few years after it was set up by Masood Azhar in 2000 when he was released (in exchange for passengers and crew of hijacked Indian Airline at Kandahar). They returned around 2014 and made Afzal Guru the face of their campaign. They have come up with an Afzal Guru squad,” the officer said.

While security agencies expected an attack in Kashmir Valley, the terrorists carried out the strike in Jammu on Saturday. (Express photo/Praveen Khanna) Two jawans, including a junior commissioner officer (JCO), were killed and four persons were injured in the attack. (Express photo/Praveen Khanna)

The group made its squad public when they launched an army camp in Kupwara on November 25, 2015. Three JeM militants had placed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at the rear of the Army’s Brigade Headquarters in Tangdhar along the Line of Control in Kupwara district. They also lobbed grenades at the oil depot, setting ablaze a few barracks and vehicles in the area. The militants who were killed after an eight-hour-long battle, police said, were carrying bags with ‘Afzal Guru Squad’ printed on them.

Within the next six weeks, the outfit conducted two major strikes in JeM’s name. The Pathankot attackers (January 2-5, 2016) had allegedly left behind a written note in superintendent of police Salwinder Singh’s vehicle, which said, “Jaish-e-Muhammad Zindabad — Tangdhar se le kar Samba Kathua, Rajbagh aur Delhi tak, Afzal Guru shaheed kay jaanisar tum ko miltay rahega inshallah (Long live Jaish-e-Muhammad — From Tangdhar (in Kupwara) to Sambha Kathua (in Jammu), Rajbagh (Srinagar) and Delhi, you will keep meeting with Afzal Guru’s fervid loyalists who are ready to lay down their lives for him)”.

See photos | Sunjwan Army camp attack: J&K on high alert after militants strike

While Pathankot operations were underway, the Indian mission in Afghanistan’s Mazar-e-Sharif was attacked. The militants wrote on the wall, in their own blood, that they had come to avenge the death of Afzal Guru, “one martyr, a thousand fidayeen”.

“This squad is formed of fidayeens. They had earlier carried out a few attacks in Jammu province – Kathua and Sambha. They have also carried out BAT actions along the LoC till their set up their base in Kashmir again in 2014-15,” the officer said. He added, “Although they aren’t present in huge number in the Valley, they are responsible for some of the biggest attacks which took place last year. In November last year, Masood Azhar’s nephew Talha Rashid was killed in south Kashmir.”

On Thursday, Vaid had told The Indian Express that security forces are taking necessary precautions in view of the alert in the Valley. On Thursday, Vaid had told The Indian Express that security forces are taking necessary precautions in view of the alert in the Valley. (Express photo/Praveen Khanna)

A senior superintendent of police in north Kashmir had told The Indian Express that “we have received an assessment (by agencies) that JeM may try to carry out a major strike on Guru’s anniversary to make its presence felt”.

Muneer Khan, Additional Directorate General of Police (Kashmir zone), who has now been transferred, had told The Indian Express, “There isn’t a formal red alert but yes, we have asked our people to take all necessary precautions.” He added, “There is no doubt that if we lower our guard, the JeM will strike.”

Read | Sunjwan Army camp attack: Rajnath Singh speaks to JK Police chief on attack

Khan also said that there are around 20 to 22 JeM militants active in the Valley at present. “Among them, 15 are in south Kashmir while 5 are in north,” he said.

He added, “While the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are still larger in number, JeM has managed to come to the forefront recently. After we killed Dujana and Ismail, LeT has no definite leader. This has helped JeM to take centre stage. Besides, all the fidayeen attacks which took place in the last one year has been carried out by the JeM. They were responsible for the attack at Lethpora (December 31, 2017), Pulwama (August 27, 2017) and the attack on 182 batallion of BSF outside Srinagar airport (October 3, 2017).”

Read | Deeply disturbed by terrorist attack in Sunjwan: Jammu & Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti

The Lethpora attack was especially significant since the two JeM fidayeens, who carried out the pre-dawn strike on a CRPF training camp, were local.

The officer also said that Fardeen Ahmad Khandav, a Class X student and son of a policeman from Tral, had joined the outfit in May last year along with Manzoor Ahmad Baba, a taxi driver, from Drabgam in Pulwama. Fardeen was the first Kashmiri youngster to have become the part of the suicide squad in seven years. Manzoor Ahmad Bhat, a local militant from Seer Jagir in Baramulla district, was part of the fidayeen attack in Srinagar city in January 2010.

Due to the presence of women and children in the housing colony, the operations are being progressed cautiously to minimize casualties, the army PRO in Jammu said. (Express photo/Praveen Khanna) Due to the presence of women and children in the housing colony, the operations are being progressed cautiously to minimize casualties, the army PRO in Jammu said. (Express photo/Praveen Khanna)

Why Afzal Guru squad? The December 13, 2001 Parliament attack, for which Guru was hanged, was blamed on the Jaish — and Masood Azhar was named as an accused. Some 10 months after Guru’s hanging, the organisation first began to make use of Guru’s name. In December 2013, JeM published a book called Aaina (Mirror), which was written by Guru while he was in jail. Published by the Maktab-e-Irfan, Lahore, the 240-page book, whose manuscript had allegedly been smuggled out of Tihar before the execution, claimed that Guru had joined Jaish in 1998 after he was recruited by Gazi Baba, the Jaish commander who allegedly masterminded the Parliament attack.

Read | Jammu and Kashmir: A timeline of terror attacks in 2018

The book’s portrayal of Afzal Guru as an ardent supporter of the Taliban who saw jihad as the only way to settle the Kashmir issue, is against what he reportedly wrote to his lawyer Sushil Kumar in 2004. In the letter, Guru spoke about being trapped by the Special Task Force of the J&K Police and named police officers who had allegedly forced him to take one of the attackers to Delhi. Among those named was “DSP Davinder Singh”, then with the J&K Police Special Operations Group at Humhama in Srinagar.

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