EVEN as the government investigates cases of alleged terror funding against separatists in Kashmir, a far stronger case is gradually being built against stone-pelters in the Valley. Agencies believe that this could deal a comprehensive blow to networks accused of creating unrest in the Valley. The NIA, which has booked Hurriyat leaders for alleged terror funding from Pakistan, has identified 28 prominent WhatsApp groups through which youths in the Valley are believed to be organised for stone-pelting, and is in the process of identifying their moderators. Around 6,000-7,000 youths are linked to the groups, and reportedly respond to calls for stone-pelting, and they are being tracked as well.
The agency has also identified scores of Facebook pages allegedly used to instigate and organise youths to pelt stones. “We are gradually building evidence against them. All of them will be booked under charges of inciting violence,” a senior NIA officer said. The development is a marked departure from the policy adopted by both the state administration and the Centre against stone-pelters in the Valley. Barring crowd-control actions and a few arrests, the Jammu and Kashmir Police has largely focused on detaining stone-pelters and counselling them.
Home Ministry sources said the approach has changed under the new regime and Central agencies have been given a free hand by the Union government to deal with separatists and stone-pelters as they deem fit.
Agency sources point out that the probe against stone-pelters is far easier compared to that of terror funding against separatists, where fund trails have to be established end to end, beginning from Pakistan. “Legal action that is taken to logical conclusion would act as a bigger deterrent to stone-pelters than merely crowd-control measures,” an officer pointed out.
Sources said the agency is largely putting together electronic evidence that would be irrefutable in a court of law. “Unlike terrorists, these troublemakers do not use proxy servers to post online messages or make untraceable secret groups. Most of the electronic evidence is out in the open. It just has to be forensically established. After that, conviction would be easy to get,” said the officer.
NIA sources said their case of terror funding against Hurriyat leaders, accused of receiving funds from the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s Hafiz Saeed among other terror groups, is also strong. However, it has as yet not been able to link any of the top leaders directly to the alleged terror funds.
“We have been able to establish money trail in a significant manner, including its source in Pakistan, but the last leg of the funds reaching top leaders still remains. A lot of covering of tracks and camouflaging has been done which we are trying to peel off. Investigations are on and hopefully we would be successful,” another NIA officer involved with the probe said.
On June 3-4, the NIA carried out raids at 26 locations in Kashmir, Haryana and Delhi in connection with the case. Among those raided were Altaf Ahmed Shah alias Altaf Fantoosh, the son-in-law of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani; Hurriyat-linked businessman Zahoor Watali; Shahid-ul-Islam, a leader of the Awami Action Committee led by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq; and some other leaders belonging to both the factions of the Hurriyat Conference and JKLF.
The NIA said more than Rs 2 crore cash, gold jewellery worth nearly Rs 40 lakh, a large number of property-related documents, letterheads of banned terrorist organisations such as the LeT and Hizbul Mujahideen, several pen drives, laptops, mobile phones and other incriminating documents, including phone diaries, kachcha receipts, vouchers, were seized from the financiers, hawala operators, and office-bearers of separatist groups. Bank accounts and lockers revealed during the course of the investigation have been ordered frozen, the NIA said.
Sources said questioning is also on of several leaders associated with the Hurriyat, including Altaf Shah, Shahid-ul-Islam and Watali. Shahid-ul-Islam and Watali are being questioned for the past three days about alleged assets owned by them. The NIA claimed to have recovered foreign currency from Watali’s house, and he is reportedly being questioned on links with Geelani.
The NIA may also seek production warrant from a special court against close aides of Geelani, including son-in-law Altaf Shah and his spokesman Ayaz Akbar. Both were placed under preventive custody by the Jammu and Kashmir Police on June 27 on account of the law and order situation in the Valley.
Shah was questioned by the NIA early last month, after which he had sought time on account of Ramzan and Eid, sources said. Shah has been asked about his moveable and other properties, including houses in the Valley as well as in Jammu, and the source of their funding, as well as about alleged funds received by the Geelani-led Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, sources said.
The FIR in the case also names Hafiz Saeed, the Pakistan-based chief of Jamaat-ud Dawah, the front for the banned Lashker-e-Taiba (LeT), besides organisations such as the Hurriyat Conference (factions led by both Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq), Hizbul Mujahideen and Dukhtaran-e-Millat.