By Sameer Yasir
The deadly pre-dawn raid by a group of fidayeen attackers who caused mayhem at a training facility of CRPF in Awantipora on Sunday, killing five jawans before being gunned down, is an ominous indication that Pakistan based militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad — that claimed the attack — may have wrested control of south Kashmir from the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
But what has shocked everyone more here is the presence of two Kashmiri militants among the squad of three that carried out the attack. Earlier suicide attacks by JeM were carried out mostly by Pakistani militants and most of the attacks took place on the Line of Control, however, what has alarmed the security establishment is the involvement of local youths in the pre-dawn suicide attack that finally ended on Monday evening with the killing of the third Pakistani militant.
While there have been past instances of fidayeen attackers unleashing themselves against security forces in Kashmir. this is the first time in at least 14 years that local youths have been inducted into death squads by JeM and trained to embark on suicide missions. The attackers were heavily armed gunmen who used automatic weapons to fire grenades and bullets while gaining access to the training centre in Awantipora of Pulwama district in south Kashmir that has witnessed a massive surge in local youths joining militancy over the past two years.
The footprints left by the attackers unveil a careful strategy into which many weeks of planning may have been invested. The selection of the target — a highly-barricaded Commando Training Centre (CTC) in Lethpora village — also gives an insight into the audacity of the attackers and their levels of motivation. Even the DGP, Jammu and Kashmir Police, SP Vaid, admitted that the militants were planning to carry out an attack on a high-value target.
On Monday, thousands of people participated in the funeral procession of one of the three attackers, identified as 16-year-old, Class X student, Fardeen Ahmad Khanday, a resident of the Tral area of Pulwama, the hometown of Burhan Wani. Interestingly, his father works for the Jammu and Kashmir Police. The other militant is Manzoor Ahmad Baba, who lived in the Drabgam area of Pulwama. It was not immediately verifiable as to when they joined militancy but Fardeen, according to his family, was a “new entrant”.
“Now we will have to search Kashmiri children on the streets, who knows they might be wearing a suicide bombing vest,” a senior police officer told Firspost on Monday, “The problem is you can kill a militant trapped inside a building, but what do you do with the man who wants to kill himself?”
Security forces saw JeM as a militant group that was the easiest to infiltrate. The infiltration of informers into the group led to its decline in Kashmir. By mid-2013, the group was on the verge of extinction — its lowest point since formation 14 years ago. Last week, when government forces killed one of the most wanted commanders of the organisation — Noor Muhammad Tantray alias Noor Trali in a gunfight in the Samboora area of Pampore, his death was a cause of celebration for forces because he was seen as a master recruiter for the JeM. Trali, 47, who was on a parole in a militancy case dating back to 2000 when he joined the militant outfit, was instrumental in attracting cadres into the organisation. This time, the recruits were locals.
Sunday’s deadly attack, security agencies believe, was in retaliation to Trali’s killing. Two years ago, there were hardly any JeM cadres operating in the Valley. The Jammu and Kashmir Police also seemed to be clueless about the number of men the organisation had under its fold. A senior police official told Firstpost last year that the numbers could be between 10 to 15. Since then, two dozen JeM militants have been killed in the Valley and the outfit has gone from strength to strength.
The outfit was back on the radar of security agencies in the Valley after its members carried out the attacks, including one on Pulwama district lines in which eight police and paramilitary forces, and three militants were killed in 2017. It was followed by the suicide attack on BSF camp outside the high security Srinagar airport, in which a BSF official and three militants were killed.
Infiltration is a key factor in JeM’s swelling ranks. To increase the foothold of the organisation in the Valley, the outfit’s chief Masood Azhar even sent his nephew, Talha Rashid, to fight in the Valley. But he remained a non-starter and was killed in an encounter in Pulwama — the same district in which militants carried out the latest pre-dawn attack on Sunday. Vaid said on Sunday that 206 militants — of them 85 locals and 121 foreigners — were killed during encounters with government forces in 2017.
He said there was a “downward trend” of local youth joining militancy in the Valley. But he refused to answer questions on how the JeM was able to increase the foothold, despite a massive crackdown by forces against militants in the Valley. But the latest developments to have thrown security agencies into a tizzy is the increasing number of youths joining JeM and the group’s growing control in south Kashmir. Now, since it has turned out that two out of three all three attackers on CTC were local Kashmiri militants, it opens a new chapter in the so called new-age militancy in the Valley.