Katra bus blast; Narwal, Shastri Nagar terror strikes worked out
Cop’s role under scanner, FIR lodged for not getting tenant verification
Perfume IED recovered for first time being examined by experts: DGP
JAMMU, Feb 2: Jammu Police have worked out four terror attacks—three on outskirts of Jammu City and another at Katra, the base camp of holy Mata Vaishno Devi Ji shrine in Reasi district, with the arrest of a Government teacher posted at village Pagihalla in Mahore tehsil, who was putting up at Peerbagh Colony at Sunjuwan in the rented accommodation of a Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP) Inspector.
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Affiliated with Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terror outfit, the militant identified as Mohammad Auraf Sheikh alias Arif, 32, son of Ghulam-ud-Din Sheikh, a resident of village Pagihalla in Baransal area of Gulabgarh in Reasi district, he was working as a Government teacher and was posted at Government Middle School Pagihalla.
Initially, he was posted as Rehbar-e-Taleem (ReT) teacher in May 2010 but his services were later regularized on completion of probation term.
With his arrest, police have worked out twin terror attacks at Narwal Transport Yard on January 21, 2023, blast in a passenger bus at Katra carrying Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji pilgrims on May 14, 2022 and explosion near power transformer at Shastri Nagar on February 11, 2022.
Initially, police had dismissed reports of bus in Katra catching fire due to sticky bombs describing it as an incident of fire but later confirmed that it was terror attack.
Arif had stayed in the house of a JKP Inspector at Peerbagh Colony in Sunjuwan on outskirts of Jammu City from December 2021 to March 2022 and December 1, 2022 to January 2023. However, the JKP Inspector hadn’t informed police for tenant verification which might have led to the militant’s arrest earlier preventing Narwal terror attacks.
“In view of this, Jammu Police have lodged First Information Report (FIR) against the JKP Inspector,” sources said, adding investigations are on to find out whether the Inspector was aware of Arif’s terror plans or not. Preliminary investigations have ruled out involvement of the JKP Inspector in terror plots but further probe continued, they added.
Arif was posted in the Government School which falls under Winter Zone and, therefore, he used to come to stay in rented accommodation in Jammu during winters. In 2021 as well as 2022 and 2023, he had stayed in the same house of JKP Inspector.
Police said he burnt his all belonging including clothes, mobile telephone, SIM card etc to finish the evidence but Jammu Police have managed to trace some remnants to ensure that evidences stand judicial scrutiny. Arif was introduced to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) commander Mohammad Qasim, a resident of village Angralla in Reasi district, who is operating from Pakistan, by his maternal uncle Qamar Din of Baransal, Doda, who is settled at Karachi.
Arif used to get IEDs and sticky bombs from the International Border in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts where they were drone-dropped by Lashkar operatives from Pakistan at the behest of Mohammad Qasim. Arif was also given locations for planting IEDs from across the border. He was paid handsome amount after executing the terror strikes.
Arif admitted that he planted two sticky bombs under Seat No. 3 in the bus at Katra Bus Stand. He kept another IED in the bag inside the bus. Later, he boarded off the bus. Four persons were killed and 25 others were injured in the blasts. Nine persons were wounded in two IEDs planted by him at Narwal Transport Yard last month while there were no casualties in the IED blast at Shastri Nagar power transformer.
Meanwhile, addressing a press conference here this afternoon, Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh said an IED planted inside a perfume bottle was recovered from the possession of Arif.
Dilbag was accompanied in the press conference by Additional DGP Jammu Mukesh Singh, DIG Jammu-Samba-Kathua range Shakti Pathak, SSP Jammu Chandan Kohli and SP City South Mamata Sharma.
Dilbag said this was the first time that such type of a bomb was recovered in the Union Territory.
A special team of experts is inspecting the device, which could have been activated by pressing the spray button, he added.
“All the (ready-to-use) IEDs have come from across the border. He had received the drone-dropped consignment of three IEDs in the last days of December and used two of these at Narwal,” Singh said.
Congratulating the Additional Director General of Police (Jammu Zone) and other officers for cracking the Narwal blast case within 11 days, Singh said it was difficult as the accused had burnt his clothes and shoes and even damaged his mobile phone in a bid to destroy evidence.
“Arif is a Government employee who joined as a ‘Rehbar-e-Taleem’ teacher in 2010 and got regularised in 2016. He came in contact with LeT operative Qasim, also a resident of Reasi and presently operating from Pakistan, through his maternal uncle Qammar Din in 2019. Din fled to Pakistan a long time back and is settled in Karachi.
“He (Arif) had received money after successfully carrying out the blasts. It is shameful that he was involved in terror activities despite being on the payroll of the Government. He will lose his job and will face the law for his actions,” the police chief said.
Singh said Arif planted the two IEDs at Narwal on January 20 and triggered the explosives within a span of 20 minutes the next day with the intention to cause heavy damage to security personnel after the first blast.
“Security forces followed SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) after the first blast, thus averting possible casualties as the second blast was much more powerful. The first explosive was carrying 750 grams of material while the second one was packed with 1,000 grams of explosives,” he said.
Referring to Arif’s admission of planting two bombs in a bus carrying Vaishno Devi pilgrims on May 13 last year, he said the police had almost worked out the case following the busting of the LeT module led by Talib Shah but “there was one missing link that who actually planted the IEDs in the bus (that went up in flames shortly after leaving Katra base camp for Jammu)”.
“He revealed that he had planted two sticky bombs, each weighing 450 grams, beneath seat number 3 of the bus, above the petrol tank to ensure maximum number of casualties,” Singh said.
The senior official said Arif used a timer device to cause the explosion in Jammu’s Shastri Nagar area on February 22 last year, a case which had remained a mystery with no clue on the perpetrators.
The arrest of Arif is a “major breakthrough” as his interrogation revealed that he was asked to do a recce of crowded areas and religious places, apparently to choose the next target and shed innocent blood, the police chief added.
“Anyone directly or indirectly involved in terror activities will not go scot free. They will face the law and nobody will be spared,” he said and asked people to continue supporting the police in foiling the nefarious designs of anti-national elements.
Singh assured the people that the police are fully alert to the threats and conspiracies hatched from across the border.
“We are for the safety and security of the people and remain awake to ensure you sleep better. There will be no shortcoming in tackling the terror threat,” he said, adding, “people are extending full support and we are thankful to them.”
Dilbag said the law enforcement agencies do not look at terror acts through the prism of religion and asserted that strict action will be taken against those found involved in such acts.
He said the recent terror attacks in Jammu region at the behest of handlers from across the border were aimed at reviving terrorism and harming the communal harmony and brotherhood in the Union territory.
“We work in accordance with law of the land and do not see (any terror-related incident) through the prism of religion. An accused is dealt with on the basis of the crime and not religion,” Singh said.
He was replying to a question on reported remarks of Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif that worshippers were not killed during prayers even in India following a deadly bomb attack inside a mosque in Peshawar recently.
“Our Government policy is very clear that terrorism has no religion and strict action should be taken against them (terrorists). Some people are trying to manipulate the situation and mislead the public, but we are sure that people have learnt a lot and will not be misled,” he said.
The top cop said the neighbouring country is the birthplace of terrorism.
“They have been raising terror groups and shedding innocent blood, and stand exposed,” he said.
Singh said terrorism sponsored from across the border has been going on for a long time in Jammu and Kashmir, and innocent people are targeted by gruesome and cowardly acts.
“Jammu province witnessed a series of terror attacks (in the past one year). The aim is to harm the communal harmony and brotherhood, and also revive terrorism which is taking its last breath even in Kashmir,” he said.
The officer said over a dozen terror groups operating in J-K have been banned, while 22 people were notified as terrorists by the Central Government in the past two years as part of the crackdown against such entities.
Singh said a terrorist cannot hide himself for ever and has to face the law.
Asked whether there is a possibility of more terrorists in Government departments, the officer said anyone found involved in such acts will be dealt with as per the law.
“A new dimension was given to terrorism in J-K under which terror modules are created and assigned particular tasks. There is more focus on such modules as most of the terrorist groups were wiped out from both the divisions of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
He added that the intention of sponsors of terrorism has not changed and one has to remain alert to tackle the new challenges and foil their designs.
Meanwhile, the DGP said the police investigation into the recent Dhangri terror attack case is on track to bring the culprits to book.
Seven people were killed and 14 others injured when terrorists attacked Dhangri village of Rajouri district on the first day of January.
While five people, including two brothers, were killed in the terrorist firing, two children were died when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), left behind by the attackers, went off the next day.
“We are working on various leads (to crack the Dhangri case) and will share details at the right time,” Singh said.
He congratulated Rajouri police for busting a module of Lashkar-e-Toiba and arresting three of its members during investigation of cases related to recovery of IEDs at different places between January 8 and 18 in the district.
Meanwhile, 58-year-old Saroj Bala, a widow who lost both of her sons – Deepak Sharma and Prince Sharma – in the terror attack announced a hunger strike from February 5 to seek justice for the victims.
“One month has passed but the terrorists involved in the attack are still at large,” Bala, who is now left alone in her family, told reporters.
She said the victim families are waiting for justice and “I have decided to sit on the hunger strike till the culprits are not brought to book.”
She said Home Minister Amit Shah, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha and senior security officers had assured justice to the victims but “all their promises have fallen flat.”
Dheeraj Sharma, Sarpanch of Dhangri Upper Panchayat, said the entire village is standing with the grieving mother.
“We stand with Bala and will join her in the hunger strike,” he said.