Two Pakistani teenagers wrongly accused of having served as guides for the terrorists who attacked an Indian Army base in Uri were repatriated home on Friday afternoon, at the end of 171 days in the custody of the Indian Army and National Investigations Agency, a day after being formally cleared investigators. Faisal Husain Awan and his school-friend Ahsan Khursheed were brought to the Attari border-crossing shortly after lunchtime, their eyes covered with black blindfolds, and handed over to Pakistani authorities. The NIA had, earlier this week, told a court in Jammu that it was releasing both youth as its investigation had found no evidence against them.
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“I am happy to be going home”, Awan said to reporters at Attari. The Ministry of External Affairs, in an official dossier handed over to Pakistan, had alleged that the two teenagers had confessed to facilitating the “infiltration of a group of four Jaish-e-Muhammad cadre who carried out the Uri army camp attack”.
A spokesperson for the Indian Army, which held the two youth on September 21, also alleged the two youth were “working for Jaish-e-Muhammad terror outfit”. Later, however, an Indian Express investigation threw up evidence that the two were at home on September 17, the day Global Positioning System data recovered from the Uri attackers showed that they had crossed the Line of Control.
The attack, significantly, has since been attributed to the Lashkar-e-Taiba — not, as initially claimed, the Jaish-e-Muhammad — with the Muridke-based terrorist group holding funeral rites for one of the attackers. NIA sources also told this newspaper that cipher-matrices recovered from the attackers tallied with those used in other Lashkar attacks.
Family members said Awan, a resident of Potha Jandgran near the village of Koomi Kote in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and his school-friend Ahsan Khursheed, from Khilayana Khurd in Muzaffarabad’s Hattian Bala tehsil, had both skipped a scheduled school picnic to Murree on September 20, claiming to be unwell.
Police sources in Muzaffarabad said the two had made plans to meet with girlfriend at a shrine near the Line of Control, but were instead confronted by her relatives, after which they fled on to the Indian side.
The circumstances under which the two teenagers’ purported confessions were obtained remains unexplained. The two, official sources said, offered several varying accounts in videotaped testimony to NIA interrogators. In an October 3 statement, the NIA said Awan identified one of the four slain terrorists who attacked the 12 Brigade headquarters as Hafiz Ahmad, the son of Feroze, in the village of Dharbang, west of Murree.
A woman doctor working for the Central Reserve Police Force who treated the two teenagers following their arrest told The Indian Express that they told her they had participated in the attack itself, providing details of how incendiary substances were used to set the tents at the 12 Brigade on fire.
The NIA, however, found the two youths’ supposed confessions did not tally with actual events on the ground, suggesting that they may have been coerced to give this testimony during the first days of their arrest.
Awan’s family was not immediately available for comment, but in a message, his brother, Ghulam Tabassum, thanked this newspaper, saying that the “the major contribution for their freedom has been from you”.