A fleeting frame of the number plate of a Pulsar motorcycle caught by a CCTV camera outside the SMHS (Shri Maharaja Hari Singh) Hospital in Srinagar helped police track down two of the three men who struck there on February 6 to help Pakistani militant Naveed Jat escape, Additional Director General of Police Muneer Khan told The Indian Express on Thursday. Two policeman were killed in firing. The police were accompanying six militants, including Jat, for a medical checkup. Speaking to The Indian Express, Khan said that once the bike’s owner was identified, the “entire story unfolded before us.”
The motorcycle belonged to one Shakeel of Lelhar village in Pulwama. “We scanned CCTV footage and found three suspicious people standing (outside the hospital). Soon, two of them were identified as Tikka Khan and Shakeel,’’ Khan said.
A check of their call details, he said, revealed that both were active militants. “They had been OGW (Over Ground Workers) for some time and then both had joined Lashkar. There are 14 cases against Shakeel while Tikka has at least two cases against him (but) they were not on our effective radar. We found they were in constant touch with one Hilal who too had joined Lashkar”. Shakeel, Tikka and Hilal, Khan said, had come to the hospital.
Sources said Tikka had also been working for security agencies as an informer which has muddied the waters surrounding Jat’s escape.
CCTV footage showed the sequence of events that led to the shooting and escape. “We found that Hilal had brought two pistols and he gave one to Naveed before opening fire at the policemen. Naveed’s one hand was cuffed and Babar (the police constable) was holding it. Naveed opened fire at him once he got the pistol from Hilal. This is how he (Babar) was hit,’’ Khan said.
“While fleeing the hospital, Shakeel drove the Pulsar motorcycle. Naveed and Hilal were his pillion riders. Tikka boarded a Maruti car. Once they all crossed the Abdullah bridge and moved towards Rajbagh extension (about 5 km from the hospital), they stopped. They asked Tikka to come to a hideout in Padshahi Bagh in the evening to pick them up.
“Tikka came in the evening with the car and took the three straight to his home in Kakapora (Pulwama),’’ he said.
ADG Khan said that the police set up five teams to track these men once they were identified while an SIT led by a SP was formed to probe. “When we finally conducted raids last evening, Naveed had already left for Shopian. He had taken Hilal along. Luck favoured them because we missed them by 20 minutes. Our information is that Naveed has gone to meet Saddam Paddar in Shopian while Hilal has gone to Riyaz Naiku. They are both Hizbul Mujahideen commanders,’’ he said.
“We found Shakeel at home. We also recovered a pistol from him. We managed to arrest Tikka from his in-law’s house and recovered a pistol from him; Mohamad Shafi, Raheal Kachru alias Tajamul and Jan Mohammad too were arrested”.
Khan said that Shafi, who is a close relative of Tikka, had given him his car. “Jan Mohammad and Kachru were working as OGWs with Hilal. Jan Mohammad has the least involvement. The rest have a direct link with the escape plan,’’ he said.
Khan said that the plot to free Naveed was being worked out over the last four months. “He (Naveed) was then lodged in Kathua. He would be brought for hearings to the court in Pulwama. They had tried to free him in Pulwama but somehow that didn’t materialise. Then he was shifted to Central Jail, Srinagar, on orders of the court,’’ he said.
“We found out that Tikka and Hilal had met him (Naveed) in Central Jail (Srinagar) too. They were also in constant touch with him on cellphone. Naveed was using a cellphone inside the jail. We wanted to access the CCTV footage of the meeting room of the Central Jail but that was, suspiciously, lying defunct. So there was no record there”. Khan said the police are probing the alleged complicity of medical staff in the jail. “He (Naveed) was referred to hospital on Feb 3 and then again on Feb 6. Why? He didn’t have any serious ailment. We are going to question each one of them”.
Director Health Services (Kashmir), Saleem ur Rehman said that the medical staff at the Central Jail has been shifted out and “the government has proposed that medical personnel who have overstayed their tenure in various jails are to be shifted as well.”
Asked why the militants wanted Naveed freed while scores are imprisoned, Khan said: “Lashkar wanted him free so that he could take over its leadership in the Valley. After the killing of Dujana and Ismail (Valley chiefs of Lashkar), Lashkar has been leaderless… Naveed was a close associate of Abu Qasim (Lashkar’s chief in Kashmir before Dujana. Qasim was killed in October 2015) and had operated in South Kashmir for more than two years. He is an old Lashkar hand and I am sure they (Lashkar) will nominate him as their leader soon,’’ he said.
The J&K Government, meanwhile, has suspended the Superintendent of the Srinagar Central Jail, Hilal Ahmad Rather, pending a probe.
The Government has also transferred Director General Prisons S K Mishra and posted him as chairman J&K Police Housing Corporation. ADG Muneer Khan has been transferred and posted as ADG, Security and Home Guard. Deputy Inspector General South Kashmir range S P Pani has been promoted and posted as Inspector General of Police, Kashmir zone.