SC allows prosecution of HM operatives in Banihal attack

NEW DELHI, May 17:

The Supreme Court has cleared the path for prosecuting six members of Hizbul Mujahideen, accused of orchestrating a failed car suicide bombing targeting a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Banihal on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway in March 2019.

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A bench of Justices MM Sundresh and SVN Bhatti overturned the April 2021 ruling of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The High Court had upheld a trial court’s decision to acquit the six accused of terrorism charges due to a procedural error in commencing their prosecution.
The Supreme Court drew parallels between the unsuccessful attack on the CRPF convoy and the deadly 14 February 2019 Pulwama attack, which claimed the lives of 40 CRPF personnel. The Pulwama attack was perpetrated by a suicide bomber affiliated with the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
The apex court deemed the procedural error as rectifiable, allowing the concerned authorities the freedom to authorise the prosecution of the accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) by adhering to the prescribed procedure. Justice Sundresh, while delivering the verdict, stated that it was within the purview of the authorities to grant appropriate approval, as mandated by the law.
On March 30, 2019, individuals suspected to be members of Hizbul Mujahideen attempted to execute an attack on a CRPF convoy in Banihal along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway.
A suspect identified as Amin from South Kashmir allegedly attempted to crash an explosives-laden Santro car into the CRPF convoy, mirroring the modus operandi of the Pulwama attack on February 14.
Following the Pulwama attack, the Union Home Ministry transferred the investigation of the attempted ambush on the CRPF convoy to the NIA. In September 2019, the NIA filed a charge sheet in the case, accusing Amin and five others of plotting to kill security personnel and waging war against the country.
However, in March 2020, a special court in J&K discharged Amin of the charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other penal provisions, citing the lack of authorisation from the Government for the District Magistrate to file a complaint in the case. The J&K High Court upheld Amin’s exoneration in its April 2021 judgment.
In February 2021, the NIA filed a supplementary charge sheet against Naveed Mushtaq Shah, a former J&K Police constable who later joined Hizbul Mujahideen.
According to a statement by the NIA on the day, the investigation concluded that the accused Shah played an active role in planning and carrying out the attack on the CRPF convoy, along with other terrorists Riyaz Ahmed Naikoo, Rayees Ahmed Khan, and Dr Saifullah Mir, who were subsequently killed in encounters with security forces. Naikoo, one of Kashmir’s most wanted terrorists and the commander of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) was killed during an encounter in Pulwama in May 2020. (Agencies)