By Peerzada Ashiq/The Hindu
Srinagar, April 29: The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), an outfit founded by Pakistan-based Masood Azhar who India wants listed as a global terrorist by the United Nations, is now recruiting local Kashmiri youth to carry out suicide attacks against Indian Security Forces. About 10 local youths have been recruited since January 2018, police said.
The JEM found Fardeen Khanday when he was in Class X. He was barely 16. For four months, Fardeen trained in the forests not far from his home in Tral, a sub-district of Pulwama in south Kashmir.
Then early on January 1, 2018, he attacked a CRPF camp at Lethpora with another militant, in a fidayeen (suicide) operation. Five uniformed personnel died, as did Fardeen and his partner.
Sons of policemen
Abid Maqbool Bhat, 19, a polytechnic student, had been with the Jaish for a little over a month. It was enough for the outfit to push him into an encounter with the security forces on April 24. He died around 15 km from his home.
The irony is both Fardeen and Maqbool were sons of policemen. Fardeen’s father is a constable and Maqbool’s is an assistant sub-inspector.
Fardeen was the eldest of three siblings. After his killing, his father, constable Ghuman Mohuddin Khanday, was removed from the Inspector General’s escort team. His friends recall Fardeen as a shy and obedient boy, who would often lead prayers at the mosque nearby. His family said their son never discussed politics at home.
“I have never seen my son hurting anyone. I don’t know what went wrong,” said his father.
Bhat and Khanday are the latest tools in the JeM’s new strategy of recruiting and training young, local boys for fidayeen attacks. An internal report of the Jammu and Kashmir police, accessed by The Hindu, details the outfit’s game plan, even as it adds steadily to its ranks — up to 10 youth have been recruited since January for “indoctrination.”
An eight-minute video of young Fardeen, shot shortly before the Lethpora attack, is “being used as fodder for indoctrination”, the police report says. In the video, the boy looks unsettlingly calm, as he invites local youth to join jehad,saying there is no freedom without sacrifice. The video was widely shared via mobile phones.
“The Lethpora attack was surely different because of its composition, with two local recruits, and the use of media to glorify imminent death,” reads the report.
Warning that while the JeM may have remained dormant for some time, the report says the outfit “has gained strength and is now focused on the induction of locals into the fidayeen squads.”
Inducting local youth as fidayeen, the report said, has become relatively easier in south Kashmir, where there is considerable support for militancy. “More attacks by locals like the Lethpora attack cannot be ruled out,” it warned.
“The theory that local militants do not believe in suicide acts has been broken by the JeM. If this recruitment drive does not get a full stop, it will be deadly and dangerous for the security forces. It’s a worrisome trend,” it said.
Media reports point out that militant outfits like the JeM and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have so far turned to Pakistani militants to carry out these attacks as they better trained, specially in the use of ammunition.
Noor Muhammad Tantray alias Noor Trali, considered the leading strategist of the JeM in south Kashmir, who was killed in an encounter on December 26 last year, “was the main motivator and local recruiter” for the outfit. Trali, who was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to a life term for his role in the 2001 attack on Parliament, was moved from Tihar Jail to Srinagar Jail. He was released on parole in 2015. He jumped parole and quickly went underground, joining the JeM. His ability to inspire and efficiently train recruits can be gauged from the fact that 24 grenades were found on Khanday’s body. Incidentally, the teenager is considered Trali’s first fidayeen recruit.
JeM’s founder Masood Azhar, the report pointed out, used the Lethpora attack “to make a psychological comeback… by executing the attack through the locals, who planned and identified the target unlike the trend where handlers across the border would do so”.
The outfit’s stronghold remains Tral-Awantipora-Pulwama belt in south Kashmir. The adjacent Srinagar-Jammu National Highway has thus become vulnerable to attacks. The challenge now is to keep the Jaish confined to this area and not allow it to spread, the report says. If it were to expand to Srinagar, the security costs it would impose would be severe, the report warns.
The killing on March 5 of JeM’s operational commander Mufti Waqas who replaced Trali’ in a ‘surgical strike’ in Awantipora and Qazi Yasir, a close confidante of Azhar, in Tral this week, however, “have struck a blow to JeM’s designs to train fidayeens”, the report claimed.
“JeM’s operational commander Yasir was among the four killed,” said Director General of Police (DGP) S.P Vaid. Yasir, who was killed along with two local recruits and a foreigner, had infiltrated in March this year.
Police data suggest between 40 to 50 JeM cadres are active in the state. “Over 10 are locals and trained for major attacks,” said a top counter-insurgency cell official.
JeM has carried out four major fidayeen attacks in the past 12 months, including attacks on the Pulwama District Police Lines, the CRPF camp at Humhama and the Sunjuwan Army Camp attack in Jammu.
The outfit was first to introduce local fidayeen on November 3, 1999, when a Srinagar boy, Afad Ahmad Shah, along with another militant drove a IED-laden car into the Badamibagh Cantonment. Eight officers, including PRO Major Pramod Purshottam were killed along with the attackers.
“Theologically, the suicide bombings and fidayeen attacks are a Salafi tradition. Therefore, it’s not surprising if Lashkar-e-Taiba does something spectacular with local utilisation of cadres,” the report added. The JeM and LeT are jockeying for power among the militant groups and use evermore more ferocious attacks to take centerstage and recruit more locals.