January 2005 News

Jaish Has Bunkers In Tral'

14 January 2005
The Asian Age

Srinagar: A recently captured Kashmiri militant has told his interrogators that the India headquarters of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a banned militant outfit, is located in concrete bunkers deep in the mountains of the Tral-Dachigam-Dara hills in Jammu and Kashmir, police sources said. A senior security official said the militant's claims were still being verified. The captured militant, Sajjad Ahmed Butt, claims the bunkers are equipped with heavy weaponry, including anti-aircraft guns. Sajjad also said that Maulana Masood Azhar, the chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, spent weeks last year in Jammu and Kashmir's twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri to indoctrinate the local youth. Masood Azhar had gone into hiding in Pakistan soon after being swapped for the passengers of IC-814, the Indian Airlines flight hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December 1999. The militant revealed that a former Bihar MP allegedly facilitated the travel of Masood Azhar's brother, Ibrahim, from Delhi to Kashmir. The police sources said this former Bihar MP is being questioned, but did not name him. A Kashmir news agency, KPS, reported on Friday night that the area in which the Jaish bunkers are claimed to be located had been sealed. Some police and intelligence officials who interrogated Sajjad Ahmed Butt believe that he is either lying, or that his seniors in the Jaish-e-Mohammed have taken him for a ride by introducing him to someone they wanted him to believe was Masood Azhar. 'The particulars and other conditions recounted by him about the man he has met and claims was Masood Azhar are quite different from the Masood Azhar I have met and talked to in Kot Balwal jail,' said a senior police officer who added that he had seen the photograph that Sajjad had taken using his cellphone and that it was not of Masood Azhar. The police sources said Sajjad is being taken to Poonch and Rajouri to identify the places and people Masood Azhar, or he himself, had visited, as is being claimed by him. The security forces are contemplating seeking the help of the Army, and if necessary also of the Air Force, to pound the Jaish headquarters in the Tral mountains. 'But before we go ahead with such an operation, we have to ensure that whatever Sajjad says is true, and even if he is not lying, we may have to know beforehand whether the Jaish terrorists still operate from there or have abandoned the place after his arrest,' said a senior security official. However, Sajjad, the Jaish's mainstay in southern Pulwama and Anantnag districts before his arrest from a Srinagar hospital earlier this month following a tip-off, is sure he has met the real Masood Azhar and not a duplicate. 'I'm sure it was him,' he told his interrogators. But, when pressed further, he admitted that he had not seen or met Masood Azhar, a man who had been quite active as the local commander of the Harkat-ul Ansar prior to his chance arrest on the outskirts of Anantnag in 1994. 'It is where the doubt about the veracity of his statement arises,' said the police officer. 'But then can a bulky man, like the Masood Azhar we know, negotiate the difficult terrain to cross the Line of Control into our side?' he asked. According to Sajjad, he heard Masood Azhar speaking at a get-together of more the 100 field commanders, including himself, at a Jaish training camp in the hills of Poonch in July 2004. Masood Azhar's brother Ibrahim, also allegedly in the group of militants masquerading as passengers who hijacked Flight IC-814 to Kandahar on December 24, 1999, joined him at that gathering. The Jaish was also accused of being involved in the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament in New Delhi and the Centre has in its demarche to Islamabad demanded the extradition of 20 wanted militants and criminals, including Masood Azhar and Ibrahim. It has also reportedly sought Interpol's help in tracking down the two and other hijackers of Flight IC-814. The two others who were swapped at Kandahar are Sheikh Ahmed Omar Sayeed, who was later sentenced to life imprisonment by a Pakistani court on charges of murdering American journalist Daniel Pearl, and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, the chief of the indigenous Kashmiri militant outfit Al-Omar Mujahideen. Zargar hails from Srinagar's Tanki Sarai Jama Masjid locality. Sajjad has revealed that he escorted Ibrahim to Kashmir from Azadpur, Delhi, and then delivered him to the Jaish headquarters in the hills of Tral area, in Pulwama district, in the summer of 2003. Subsequently, Ibrahim took over as the Jaish chief commander in the Valley and has since been replaced by one Jamaal, Sajjad reportedly told his interrogators. He has identified Jamaal's deputy as Mulla Nasir, also a Pakistani national. He also reportedly revealed that a former Bihar MP facilitated Ibrahim's travel from Delhi to Kashmir. It was again Sajjad who accompanied Ibrahim back to Azadpur after he had served in the Valley for about one year, and to bring Jamaal here. According to Sajjad, Masood Azhar, after speaking at the Jaish gathering in Poonch, visited some parts of Rajouri and beyond, and that he (Sajjad) had photographed him using his mobile phone. The police has seized the cellphone, which has a built-in camera. The police is also questioning Sajjad's brother (name withheld), in whose name BSNL had issued the SIM card for the cellphone Sajjad had been using.


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