The Rajiv Nagar killers

Published : Sep 14, 2002 00:00 IST

SEVEN weeks after the killing of 28 Dalit workers in Jammu, police investigators have found the murderers. Their arrest will provide some comfort, however small, to the families of the dead, who included 14 children. But the investigation has also blown open a larger network of Lashkar-e-Toiba units critical to the terrorist organisation's operations. "I can confidently assert," says Senior Superintendent of Police, Jammu, Farooq Khan, "that we have dealt their infrastructure a blow that will take them at least six months to recover from."

It all began in 1988, some 200 km from Rajiv Nagar. That year, Uttar Pradesh resident Maulvi Hashim Qadri, the Imam of the Jamia Masjid in Surankote, set up the Anjuman Falah-e-Muslimeen, an organisation devoted to the "liberation" of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir from India. Most of its members went to Pakistan for weapons training, and were either killed or arrested on their return. One of them, Mohammad Akram Janjua, spent four years in jail. On his release in 1994, he left for Pakistan, where he was recruited by the Inter-Services Intelligence to set up a support structure for the Hizbul Mujahideen in the Jammu region.

Janjua turned to one of his old friends, schoolteacher Kabir-ud-Din, for help. Kabir-ud-Din arranged for the safe passage of terrorist groups across the Line of Control, and by the time of his recent arrest, is believed to have organised safe passage for up to 55 groups, each with anywhere between four and 25 members. He also set up a network to provide safe houses in Jammu and elsewhere, and fake identification cards, transport and communications. In 1997, the Lashkar-e-Toiba recruited Kabir-ud-Din, and encouraged him to expand his operations. In November 2001, the schoolteacher even purchased a truck, with the registration number JKS 4167, to ship explosives and arms to newly set up terrorist cells in Jammu.

After 1997, Kabir-ud-Din organised a series of high-profile killings, notably the murder of two Hindu priests at Dhundak in 2002, and a succession of bomb blasts, and attacks on security force installations and alleged informers. The Rajiv Nagar killings were, in their scale, to be considerably grander. Pakistan nationals Mohammad Adnan and Mohammad Abdullah were tasked with the execution of the actual hit on the instructions of Abu Abdullah, the Lashkar district commander. Kabir-ud-Din entrusted his aides, Altaf Hussain Shah, the Naib sarpanch of Kallar, and Maroof Ahmad Khan, the driver of his truck, with the task of getting both the terrorists into Jammu.

Late on July 11, Adnan and Abdullah arrived at the home of a fisherman in Kabir-ud-Din's home village of Lathoong and at gunpoint demanded shelter. The next morning, Shah collected them from this house and escorted them to Jammu by bus. They carried with them fake identification papers, provided by a terrorist-turned-police officer-turned terrorist sympathiser, Shabbir Ahmad. In Jammu, they collected the assault rifles, 10 magazines and nine grenades shipped to the city by Maroof Ahmad Khan on a truck carrying groceries. If this shipment had been interdicted, Kabir-ud-Din had ensured that there were standby arrangements. A second consignment was sent through Mehmood Ahmed, a laboratory assistant in a private clinic in Jammu.

In the event, the attack went off without a hitch, but prompt action by the Jammu Police made it impossible for the terrorists to escape. Mohammad Adnan was shot dead on August 2, while Mohammad Abdullah was arrested a day later. Abdullah, during his interrogation, gave the police the names of his contacts in Poonch. The police authorities there, in turn, moved quickly to secure the arrest of the other key figures involved in the carnage, including Kabir-ud-Din. Lashkar commander Abu Abdullah, however, remains at large. Police officials are confident that several others will be arrested soon. "With Kabir-ud-Din's arrest," says SSP Farooq Khan, "we have the keys to the Lashkar-e-Toiba's entire infrastructure in Jammu, and we intend to destroy it to the last safe house and last sympathiser."

At least some interesting leads have already emerged. Intelligence officials have learned that one member of Kabir-ud-Din's unit, Pakistan national Mohammad Yasin, had been settled in Malerkotla, Punjab, as a long-term agent. Yasin had been provided with fake identification papers and helped to set up a business in Malerkotla by the Lashkar-e-Toiba's agents in Jammu. In August, he married a local woman, Akhtar Parveen, and left for Surankote, intending to return shortly before Kabir-ud-Din's arrest. Separate operations have led to the arrest of several such long-term agents, described in intelligence parlance as "sleepers". The Jammu Police, for example, recently arrested a Pakistan national, Zulfiqar Ali Rana, who had purchased a home in Jammu using fake identification papers.

Sleepers play a key role in the Lashkar-e-Toiba's operations, which it sees as part of a broader struggle against what it believes is Hindu rule in India. They can, over the years, quietly develop the infrastructure and assets that operational groups need to execute terrorist attacks. Several such sleepers have been arrested from and killed in several locations, notably Hyderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi. The recent arrests in Jammu underline the fact that the Lashkar-e-Toiba's war on India is proceeding unabated.

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