THE JAMMU and Kashmir Police on Monday claimed to have busted a Lashkar-e-Taiba module with the arrests of two persons, including Sandeep Kumar Sharma alias Adil, a resident of Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh.
Identifying the second person as Muneeb Shah of Kulgam, police said the duo were involved in several attacks on security forces, including the killing of six policemen in Achabal last month, and bank robberies in South Kashmir. Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Muneer Ahmad Khan said Sharma was nabbed in the encounter at Brenti Batapora, Dialgam, in South Kashmir on July 1, when Lashkar ‘commander’ Bashir Ahmad Wani was killed. “He was present in the same house at Brenti Batapora where Wani and Abu Maaz of Pakistan were killed,” he said.
“Sharma and his accomplice were involved in an attack on an Army convoy at Lower Munda Qazigund in June. They were also involved in a weapon snatching incident at the residence of Justice (retd) Muzuffar Attar at Anchidoora on June 13, and attack on a police party in which six policemen were killed at Thajiwara Achabal on June 16,” said Khan. He said Sharma and his associates were also involved in five incidents of bank robberies and looting of ATMs.
“This criminal conspiracy started sometime in January 2017. Sharma and his associates (all Kashmir residents) came from Patiala to carry out criminal activities. They stayed in Wanpoh and were involved in robberies, including looting of ATMs, in South Kashmir. They worked in conjunction with the Lashkar… Sharma worked as Wani’s key aide,” he said.
In Muzaffarnagar, Sharma’s mother Premvati, brother Parveen and sister-in-law Rekha have been detained for questioning. “An ATS team from the local police station went to their residence at around 9 am, after receiving information from the J&K police. His mother and sister-in-law were at home,” said Inspector G C Sharma of Civil Lines Police Station, who was part of the team. Parveen was brought in from Haridwar, where he is employed as a driver.
Read | Who is Sandeep Kumar Sharma?
The family is reported to have told the police that Sharma had converted to Islam and married a girl from Kashmir. They have reportedly claimed that Sharma left his home, in Sarwat village of Muzaffarnagar district, about seven years ago, and did not contact them till about three years ago. That was when they found out that he had converted.
Contradicting the family’s claim, a police officer said they had evidence that Sharma was in regular contact with them. Inspector General, Uttar Pradesh ATS, Asim Arun said they had not found any criminal records against Sharma or his family members so far. An ATS team has left for J&K to question him.
In Kashmir, police said Sharma was arrested in a robbery case in March 2017, but was later released on bail.
According to Kashmir IG Khan, Sharma first visited the Valley in the summer of 2012. He used to work as a welder in Kashmir during the summer months and moved to Patiala during winter, he said.
“During his stay in Patiala, he came in contact with Shahid of Pohlu Pulwama. In January 2017, he returned to Kashmir, and stayed in Wanpoh, along with Shahid and two other associates, Muneeb Shah and Muzaffar. Sharma got involved in criminal activities, along with Lashkar terrorist Shakoor of Supat village. They used Sharma’s services in looting banks, and shared the spoils,” said Khan.
Khan said investigations revealed that Sharma, along with others, had hatched a criminal conspiracy to provide shelter and transport to militants for carrying out terror strikes. “On the Lashkar’s directions, Sharma and his associates received Lashkar terrorists and dropped them off at different sites in South Kashmir. He also concealed weapons looted from police guards in a vehicle, and transported these to different locations on the Lashkar’s directions,” he said. Since Sharma was not a J&K resident, he would drive vehicles with “outside state” numberplates, police said.
Police said they were investigating the role of Sharma’s associates. “Investigations have revealed that Lashkar, in league with a criminal network, is raising funds by looting banks, especially ATMs in South Kashmir, besides using these networks to further terrorist activities,” said Khan.
The Lashkar, however, denied any link with Sharma, and said it was a ploy by intelligence agencies to sabotage the Kashmir movement.
In Sarwat, villagers expressed surprise at the arrest. “They were a very poor family. He was miffed with the family since they had sold their old home, a few years ago. He wanted a share of the money, but Parveen wasn’t willing to give him,” said Gaurav Tyagi, 30, Sharma’s neighbour.
Tyagi showed a video of Parveen speaking to local news channels earlier in the day, that is now being shared on WhatsApp in the area. Parveen is heard saying that he has not met his brother for three years and that if he indeed is a terrorist, he must be hanged.
“The family members have been taken in for questioning. We cannot divulge much about the raids or the interrogation. The investigation is underway,” said SSP Anant Dev Tiwari.