ISI, JeM planned Pulwama strike, trained attacker: NIA
Islamabad was involved in planning, training the perpetrators and executing the February 2019 Pulwama attack that left 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel dead and brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war, said two officials aware of the details of the charge sheet the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has readied in the case.
The charge sheet, which is expected to be filed at the end of this month, concludes Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and its proxy, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), planned and executed the state-sponsored attack, for which highly-trained terrorists were sent to India.
It says Pakistan used Adil Ahmad Dar, a local resident who rammed an explosive-laden car into a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, as a suicide bomber to project the attack as a result of a home-grown militancy against “India’s occupation of Kashmir”, one of the officers cited above said.
“However, strong technical, documentary and material evidence have been collected apart from experts’ reports and evidence shared by foreign agencies, which prove that the Pakistani government was directly involved in the attack, aimed to create unrest in India,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Maulana Masood Azhar, who founded JeM in 2000 after he was freed from an Indian prison in exchange for 155 passengers of a hijacked aircraft, and his younger brother, Mufti Abdul Rauf Asghar, have been named as primary accused in the charge sheet. Seven alleged JeM operatives arrested from Kashmir since February, Shakir Bashir Magrey, Mohammad Abbas Rather, Mohammad Iqbal Rather, Waiz-ul-Islam, Insha Jan, Tariq Ahmad Shah, and Bilal Ahmed Kuchey, have been named for “conducting reconnaissance, providing logistics and assisting in planning the attack”.
The names of Pakistani terrorist Mohammad Umar Farooq, who was sent to India to execute the attack, Kamran, JeM’s area commander, Mudassir Khan, and Adil Ahmad Dar also figure in charge sheet but not as accused as they have been killed. Farooq, Kamran, and Mudassir Khan were killed in March 2019 in separate exchanges of fire with security forces.
A second officer said the Union home ministry has given the go-ahead to file the charge sheet against Azhar and others under anti-terror laws.
Azhar was among those India designated as individual terrorists in 2019. The move came following an amendment to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which allows the government to designate individuals as terrorists.
The US has similar laws for such designations and the 2019 move opened an added avenue for joint action against terrorists.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has denied his country’s role in the Pulwama attack and even offered to prosecute the culprits if India provided evidence. Islamabad has not, however, taken any substantive action against global terrorists operating from its soil, including Azhar even as it has been under pressure from the international community.
Pakistan has been on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)’s “grey list” of “monitored jurisdictions” since June 2018 for failing to counter-terror financing, especially by groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, JeM, Taliban, al-Qaeda and Haqqani Network.
A FATF plenary meeting in February warned Pakistan that it had failed to meet all deadlines for a 27-point action plan, and gave the country four more months to implement it.
HT in March reported the Pulwama attack was originally set to be carried out in the first week of February 2019. But weather conditions forced a suspension of the security convoy movements. The ISI and JeM had to wait until next the CRPF convoy travelled along the Jammu-Srinagar highway.
NIA’s probe has concluded the explosive material for the attack was collected over a period of time from mining blocks and locations used by cement factories for blasting rocks in Khrew (Pulwama), Khunmoh (Srinagar), Tral, Awantipora, and Lethpora.
The NIA charge sheet also details the email, text, and social media communications of key players in the bombing, including Azhar’s brother, the second official cited above said.
The Pulwama attack threatened to spark a full-blown conflict between India and Pakistan. JeM claimed responsibility for the attack and prompted India to carry out an airstrike on a terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot.
Pakistan retaliated a day later and triggered a brief dogfight involving warplanes of the two countries.