Announcing a major breakthrough in the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) said that it had identified the owner of the vehicle that was used by the attacker who has been claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed to be its recruit Adil Ahmed Dar.
The NIA said Monday that the Maruti Eeco car was last sold on February 4, just 10 days before the attack, to one Sajjad Bhat, a resident of Bijbehara in Anantnag, who is now absconding and is suspected to have joined Jaish.
The 22-year-old, sources said, has been associated with militant groups in the Valley for the past two years. Investigators are trying to ascertain when did he come in contact with JeM and Dar.
“Sajjad is a student of Siraj-ul-Uloom, Shopian. A raid was conducted by NIA team at his house with the help of J&K Police on February 23. However, Sajjad was found not present in his house and thereafter has been evading arrest since then. He has reportedly now joined JeM. A photograph to this effect has also appeared in social media where Sajjad is seen holding weapons,” an NIA statement said.
NIA investigators identified the vehicle used for the blast with the support of forensic and automobile experts.
According to the agency, the vehicle — chassis MA3ERLF1SOO183735 and engine G12BN164140 — was sold to Mohammed Jaleel Ahmed Haqani, a resident of Heaven Colony in Anantnag, in 2011. It changed hands seven times before reaching Sajjad, it said.
Explaining how NIA tracked the vehicle, a Home Ministry official said: “After ascertaining the chassis number, investigators identified the month and year in which the Maruti Eeco was manufactured. The vehicle identification number (VIN) has 19 letters and is unique to every car. The alphanumeric code in this case helped track the first owner. Car companies usually split the month and year of manufacturing into English letters and with their help, the NIA was able to establish the chain of ownership.”
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The official added that the agency is learnt to have also traced the source of funds for buying the vehicle. “We have some details on logistics which is being verified,” said an NIA investigator.
In a recent social media post, Sajjad can be seen holding guns claiming to be part of the JeM suicide squad. The post also mentions the name of Afzal Guru who was hanged in 2013 after being convicted for his role in 2001 Parliament attack said to be the handiwork of JeM.
NIA sources said the car was bought on February 4 for the attack and had been driven from Anantnag to Pulwama where it was packed with an IED. “It is suspected that Dar and Sajjad Bhat knew each other. Both have been claimed by JeM to be their operatives. Both are of the same age group as well,” a senior NIA officer said.
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Sources said the agency is now verifying all the people who have been in touch with Sajjad in the past few months and is tracing all calls he made and received over the recent past.
“The car has given us a significant lead. We hope the threads from here will lead to more people. We will soon reach the people behind the attack,” the officer added.
The Indian Express had on February 23 first reported that NIA had traced the car’s manufacturing to 2011 and was close to tracking the owner.
Dar detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) inside the red-coloured car after manoeuvring it close to the fifth bus in the CRPF convoy that was moving on the Jammu-Srinagar highway. The attacker is believed to have driven the car from a side lane in Lethpora.
Sources said investigators picked up a few pieces of a jerrycan from the attack site which they suspect was used to carry the explosives. From its remains, investigators estimate the can was not more than 20-25 litres in capacity and could not have held more than 30 kg of RDX, the explosive suspected to have been used in the attack.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Monday that two Western security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, “said that an experienced bomb maker from Pakistan most likely traveled across the border and built an unusually powerful bomb for the young Kashmiri to detonate.”