How was the Pulwama attack planned: Exhaustive details here
The idea of the Pulwama attack of February 2019 was seeded in April 2018, when Jaish-e-Mohammed operatives crossed over the border from Pakistan, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) claimed in its 13,500-page charge-sheet filed on Tuesday. Besides Masood Azhar, the boss of Pakistan-based Jaish, the charge-sheet named his brothers Rauf Asghar and Maulana Mohammed Ammar as the masterminds. Here are more details.
Last year, a four-wheeler laced with explosives rammed into a CRPF convoy on Srinagar highway, triggering a huge explosion, and taking the lives of 40 soldiers. The attack, dubbed the worst one to hit the volatile Valley in decades, was orchestrated by Jaish. Days later, to avenge their martyrdom, IAF launched Balakot operation wherein jets breached Pakistani airspace and dropped bombs on Jaish's camp.
After the attack, NIA spent more than a year piecing together the plot and finally submitted the exhaustive charge-sheet in a special court yesterday. As per NIA, the planning started in April 2018, ten months before the deadly fidayeen strike, when Azhar's nephew Ummer Farooq infiltrated into Kashmir, reports News18. A few days later, another terrorist Ismail Saifullah also crossed over the border.
Both of them were received by Ashiq Ahmed Nengroo and Mohd Iqbal Rather, who were also mentioned in the charge-sheet. NIA said the phones recovered from the terrorists had videos of their infiltration — they cut fences and entered India in the dark. Between October and November 2018, the terrorists procured explosives. In this "project around explosives," one Shakir Bashir assisted Farooq.
The top agency revealed that Bashir stocked explosives, handed over to him by other ground workers, at his home. 35 kg of RDX, to be used for the attack, was brought from Pakistan, whereas gelatin sticks and ammonium nitrate were purchased locally. On February 5, 2019, Bashir, Farooq, Sameer Dar, and the suicide bomber Adil Ahmad Dar made the IED at Bashir's place.
According to NIA, the terrorists made two drums of IED; one weighing 160 kg and another 40 kg. On February 6, the explosives were fitted on a Maruti Eeco car. Jaish wanted to execute the attack on February 6 but snowfall hindered its plans. On February 14, Bashir quickly alerted Farooq about road opening parties being set up. The terrorists then moved in action.
NIA said Bashir drove the vehicle before handing over the keys, some 500 meter away from the site, to Adil. The suicide bomber looked for a bus carrying the most number of soldiers to inflict maximum damage. To note, of the 19 accused named by NIA, six have been killed in encounters, seven were arrested but five are still at large, reports NDTV.
Separately, another report in TOI said the charge-sheet also contained a "vitriolic" clip of Azhar where he exhorted Kashmir's youth to avenge the "shahadat" (martyrdom) of his nephew Usman Haider, who was gunned down in Tral. While Jaish's top-brass gave directions to "foot-soldiers," Pakistan's spy agency, ISI, was also involved in the attack, said NIA. Pakistani state actors worked to push terrorists in India.
Further, NIA said Jaish wanted to execute another attack after Pulwama's "success." But Azhar sent a message to Farooq to abort the second attack, citing the increased international scrutiny. NIA was able to gather incriminating evidence from phones, recovered from eliminated terrorists. "They had photographs of every step of the planning, from infiltration (into India) to the execution," an NIA officer told IE.
NIA added that Jaish hoped the Pulwama attack would spark a war between India and Pakistan. With armed forces occupied, the terror outfit thought it would have a leeway to push more terrorists into the Valley. Notably, the hostile neighbors did come at the brink of war as IAF and PAF jets engaged in a dogfight, but it didn't escalate further.
While NIA managed to crack the plot, name the masterminds, and back its claims with evidence, it is still probing the financial angle. Around the time the car and explosives were purchased, two accounts of Farooq in Pakistan — one in Allied Bank and another in Meezan Bank — got lakhs of rupees. NIA is yet to understand how the money reached Kashmir.
Now, NIA had launched a probe immediately after the attack but it was not until December 2019 that it hit a jackpot of sorts. Late last year, the J&K Police handed over Farooq's phone to NIA, months after he was killed in an encounter in March. On skimming through the device, NIA found WhatsApp chats, photos (including one of Bashir), and relevant videos.
Since the charge-sheet has been filed, NIA will now send Letter Rogatories (LRs) to Pakistan seeking more information on Jaish's leadership. LRs are formal judicial documents for seeking information from other countries. On September 1, Special Judge Suneet Gupta will hear the arguments in the case. Meanwhile, NIA is certain that the evidence it has furnished will construct a fool-proof case against perpetrators.