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Newsroom diaries 2016: From Kashmir to Syria, a year in terror

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series of newsroom diaries by various members of the Firstpost team. These diaries will provide you with the journalist’s recollections of a particular bit of news coverage in 2016 in which she/he was deeply involved.

In 2001 the world saw the devastating 9/11 attack, with awe and shock. That moment changed everything. We became a more scared group of people. Abandoned bags and clothing choices made us scared. This situation grew worse in 2016, for this year, we got normalised to terror attacks.

It was 2 January and a group of terrorists attacked an airbase in Pathankot, killing 8 people. This set the tone for the rest of the year and it was all downhill from there on.

The year saw some of the most incredulous attacks by Islamic State or IS-inspired terrorists. This included the Brussels airport attack where a coordinated attack by suicide bombers killed 32 people. Then was the Nice attack where a cargo truck was deliberately driven into a group of people on Bastille Day killing 86 and injuring 434. In December, the Syrian conflict had one of the worst repercussion beyond its borders with the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in Ankara. A 22-year-old Turkish gunman Andrey Karlov shot dead the 62-year-old diplomat in what appeared to be revenge for Russia’s part in the violence in Syria.

Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in Ankara at an art exhibit by a lone Turkish gunman shouting “God is great!” and “don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!”. The assassination was photographed and it presented one of the most chilling moments in 2016.

An unnamed gunman shouts after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, at a photo gallery in Ankara. APAn unnamed gunman shouts after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, at a photo gallery in Ankara. AP

An unnamed gunman shouts after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, at a photo gallery in Ankara. AP

The frequency of terror attacks in 2016 was so great that changing the Facebook display pictures became a daily activity for people who sympathised with the victims of these attacks. There were regular fights on social media over the media coverage allotted to a particular attack. The logic was that when a western country was attacked, people noticed, as opposed to when the middle-eastern belt or Asian and African belt was hit. This is probably why 2016 remained etched in people’s memories, for the rise in hits on the European civilisation.

United States suffered the worst attack since 9/11

People take part in a protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter during a march in New York. ReutersPeople take part in a protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter during a march in New York. Reuters

People take part in a protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter during a march in New York. Reuters

This year, the United States suffered under attacks of gun-violence, fundamentalism and racial tension. The ‘Orlando terror attack’ where a 29-year-old Islamic State-inspired radical entered a gay nightclub and killed 49 people, was perhaps the biggest attack on the LGBTQ community. A hate-crime like this one spoke volumes about the rise of intolerance in a Trumpian era. The Orlando attack was the second major terror attack on the US soil since 9/11 and this reign of terror was further fuelled when the major movement for equality — Black Lives Matter — turned violent after the death of police officers during the protest rallies in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Tentions escalate between India and Pakistan

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

In 2016, there was palpable tension between India and Pakistan and one of the possible reasons was how the year started for the two nations. In January, the Pathankot attack happened and it was the beginning of the signs of mistrust between the two nations. On 8 November, when news about PM Modi’s address to the nation came in, we all thought he was going to announce something in relation to taking strong action against Pakistan.

This notion was not unfounded. For 20 minutes between the announcement of address and the actual address, theories about war were floating on the desk. This was because a month ago, on 29 September, a military confrontation between India and Pakistan began. India claimed that it had conducted “surgical strikes” against militant launch pads across the Line of Control in Pakistani-administered Azad Kashmir, and inflicted “significant casualties”. This was touted as Modi’s surgical strike against Pakistan and was instigated by the 19 September Uri attack where 17 Indian soldiers were killed. The Uri attack was reported as “the deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir in two decades”

The number of ceasefire violations had increased manifold since then. Out of the total number of 151 ceasefire violations in 2016, 110 of them happened since September.

The palpable tension between the two nations put everyone on edge.

The normalcy of terror attacks hit a raw nerve

There wasn’t just one moment or one incident which affected me the most this year. The normalcy of the situation hit a raw note. “What terror attack are we covering today,” was a frequently heard adage on the desk. The clinical process on the desk when one of these strikes happened was: prep the live blog, write the death toll copies, write analysis copies, do reaction copy, etc. Everybody got the hang of this process after the first few attacks.

However, the efficiency of the desk meant that too many of these attacks had happened and too many people had lost their lives. 2016 had ushered in a new era of normalcy.

First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 09:24 IST

Nagrota Attack: Army should hit terrorists harder and not celebrate prematurely

Despite what happened in Jammu’s Nagrota, the question is not just about lapse of security. Nothing is secure against a human bomb or a man whose mental brainwashing is so intense he is ready to die with his enemy and seek honour in it. Every time this sort of assault occurs, we fall about in trembling little heaps moaning about the breaches and how is it that the military camps cannot see these attacks coming?

That is like saying the revelers in Nice, France should have figured out that the truck driver, who went berserk, was going to mow them down and have a blast doing it.

The only minor defence uplift can be in creating a cordon sanitaire, around a camp, in that the 200-metres around the base is sterile and devoid of any cover or natural growth. Several major installations are just made a bit safer by being turned into islands so that any approach by an adversary allows for time to for reaction. Even then it is not perfect because a vehicle could navigate that distance in mere seconds.

Indian military security is touted as one of the largest in the world and the ability to actually stop the killers and bring them down rather than allow them to ‘shoot and scoot’ is in itself indicative of a major capability. Let’s back up a bit. The surgical strikes, conducted by the Indian Army in September after the Uri attack, were in isolation and we were so busy congratulating ourselves and making political capital out of this one day destruction of launch pads that we took the foot off the accelerator and eased the pressure on the terrorists. They were able to regroup and move on. And get back into business.

Security personnel take positions during a gun battle with suspected militants at Army camp at Nagrota near Jammu on Tuesday. PTI

Security personnel take positions during a gun battle with suspected militants at Army camp at Nagrota near Jammu on Tuesday. PTI

We should have, and probably do have, the intel to indicate more camps and training bases and arsenals and launch pads and we should have identified these locations and continued striking. There cannot just have been seven launch pads. Since India was not targeting Pakistani armed forces but the common enemy of mankind it would have made it very difficult for Islamabad to read these initiatives as acts of war.

After all, Pakistan officially wishes to wage battle against terror groups that target it. So India is only offering a helping hand. They would have made squealing noises but not raised the ante to an all out confrontation.

The complicity between Pakistan forces and terror groups and what we see as an glaring overlap is technically valid but since again Pakistan denies this support, the Indian strategy should be to use Pakistan’s selective stance over terrorism to advantage.

Elect to circle those suspected sites and continue to hit them. Activate your eye in the sky. Avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage but use the right to defend your own territory band your own people by eliminating the threat at the gate.

Whether we wish to ignore the fact or critique those who bring it up those seven strikes were misinterpreted as a major blow to the enemy which they were not. Set to music we danced away the opportunity to see the first seven as the start of an ongoing operation.

Nagrota has given us another opportunity to recognise the existence of more launch pads leading to larger training camps and bases and even extremist headquarters.
No lying back on laurels and making assumptions of intimidating the enemy that are dangerously naïve.

Nagorta, Uri, Poonch, Pampore, there will be more.

Unless we wake up to the reality that penetration has to be deeper and more decisive without the bunting and the backslapping.

First Published On : Dec 1, 2016 13:43 IST

Uri terror attack: Has PM Nawaz Sharif surrendered before Pakistan army?

Pakistan condemns the terrorist incident in Pathankot, India, today, in which many precious lives have been lost. We extend heartfelt condolences to the government and people of India and the bereaved families and wish the wounded speedy and full recovery. Building on the goodwill created during the recent high-level contacts between the two countries, Pakistan remains committed to partner with India as well as other countries in the region to completely eradicate the menace of terrorism afflicting our region.” – Pakistan Foreign Office after the Pathankot airbase attack.

Refuting the unfounded and pre-mature Indian allegation, Pakistani DGMO asked his counterpart to share any actionable intelligence.” – Pakistan Army spokesman after the Uri attack on Sunday.

It is a blatant attempt on India’s part to deflect attention from the fast deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation.” – Sartaj Aziz, the advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs after the Uri attack.

It’s been barely eight months and India was attacked by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists yet again on 18 September at the 12 Brigade headquarters of the Army in north Kashmir’s Uri town after the daring attack on the Pathankot air base in January this year.

Pakistan, however, had a starkly different response to both the attacks. While it sympathised with India and declared its commitment to eradicate terrorism after the Pathankot attack, its change in stance immediately after the Uri attack on Sunday is palpable.

Aziz accused India of trying to divert attention from Kashmir and the Pakistani media went a step further and published an interesting hypothesis.

The News International report dwelled on the realms of phantasmagoria  that the Uri terror attack was staged by India to create hatred between the Sikh and Muslim communities in Kashmir.

Although the Pakistani Joint investigation Team (JIT) which was probing the Pathankot terror attack admitted that the four terrorists who attacked the Pathankot Indian Air Force base were from Pakistan, the JIT later changed its stand to say that the Pathankot attack had been staged by India.

However, the initial reaction of our neighbour country should be noted. The accusation of staging the attack came three months after the Pathankot attack while in the case of the Uri attack, the outrageous theory emerged just a day after.

The army base which was attacked in Uri. PTI

The army base which was attacked in Uri. PTI

The reason for this unsympathetic response from our neighbour country might have been because it is moving gradually towards an army-dominated government. Time has moved forward, things have evolved (maybe for the worse), and probably time is running out fast for the tame Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan government.

While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assured that his government will go to any lengths to uncover the alleged use of its soil in the 2 January attack as The Indian Express reported, he preferred to remain a mute spectator on the 18 September attack.

After the Pathankot air force base attack, Indian officials quoted in the report had said, “Sharif wants to get to the bottom of the attack but the question is whether the Pakistan Army-ISI combination will let him do what he intends to do?”

Let’s contrast the January response with Pakistan’s stand on the Uri attack.

The Pakistani Army spokesperson denounced India’s claims as “unfounded” and Aziz said that “Pakistan has noted with serious concern the recent spate of vitriolic and unsubstantiated statements emanating from Indian civil and military leadership in the aftermath of Sunday’s attack.”

Sharif might have remained relatively silent on the terror attack but he did find time to write to the permanent members of the Security Council over the Kashmir issue.

The nature of Sharif’s response fast indicate the shift from a civilian government to an army-influenced one in Pakistan as reported by The National Interest.

It reported that banners requesting the military’s takeover of the country were put all across Islamabad. While a direct coup in the current milieu is not likely to take place, the influence which the army can wield on the government is apparent from Pakistan’s history.

The report in The National Interest also said that the army controls “the domestic and external political and security landscape” and its political hyperactivity in the midst of a non responsive civilian government forms a positive image of it in front of the people.

Indian jawan outside the camp after the Uri attack. PTI

Indian jawan outside the camp after the Uri attack. PTI

The Foreign Policy Centre claims that the civilian government only seems to be “clutching at straws to retain an impression of its control over the population.”

After the failed coup attempt in Turkey, the debate about Pakistani army attempting a coup has reignited.

Further, the protests against Sharif after the Panama papers leak also suggest that the Pakistan Army continues to be the most powerful institution in the country, according to a report in Observer Research Foundation. It said that on 1 August, the Army took over Islamabad’s security “at the request of the government”.

As Sunil Raman writes in this Firstpost piece, “Pakistan’s civilian government was egged on by generals to take an aggressive stance towards protests in parts of Kashmir and spread anti-India venom across the globe. Tainted by the Panama Papers revelations that he and his family owned foreign bank accounts, Nawaz found that Kashmir would be a handy issue to divert their attention.”

The Pakistani Army is taking baby steps towards dominating the civilian government and the cold response to the Uri attack may be attributed to this.

Raman also writes that “Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif has been very vocal in his support to protestors in the Kashmir Valley.”

Pakistan’s continued support to separatists in Kashmir in the aftermath of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s death has threatened the bilateral relations between the two nations. Pakistan even declared a black day to express solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and declared Wani a “martyr”.

There are other reasons which have pities both the countries against each other. Pakistan’s constant interference in India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership bid and India’s remarks on Balochistan have further strained the relations.

It started with China vetoing India’s bid to get JeM chief Masood Azhar designated as a terrorist by the UN and described its stance as “fair and based on facts”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi singled out Pakistan as a country which is “spreading agents of terror in our region,” NDTV reported.

Soon after India applied for the Nuclear Suppliers Group membership and secured US’ support, Pakistan has been launching drives to gather support for its own NSG membership. Aziz said that Pakistan was “making successful efforts” against New Delhi’s bid.

With Pakistan actively participating in fuelling unrest in  the Kashmir Vally, Modi raised the Balochistan issue and the alleged human rights violations by Pakistan during his Independence Day speech. This evidently irked the country and its army definitely needed something to divert global attention from them rather than leave the job to their spineless government. Uri is the first diversion, perhaps.

Russia condemns Uri attack, confirms its support to India’s counter-terrorism efforts

Moscow: Russia on Monday condemned the terror attack on an army camp in Jammu and Kashmir and said it is “concerned about the fact that, according to New Delhi, the army base was attacked from Pakistani territory”.

The army camp in Uri where the attack happened. PTI

The army camp in Uri where the attack happened. PTI

In a statement, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the “criminal act” should be investigated properly and that “its organisers and perpetrators be held accountable”.

“We strongly condemn the terrorist attack against an army base in Jammu and Kashmir’s Uri in the early hours of 18 September, which killed 17 and injured 30 service personnel. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and wish a rapid recovery to all those injured,” the statement said, according to the Russian Embassy in Delhi.

“Regarding the Pathankot Indian air base attack in January 2016, we are very concerned about the terrorist attacks near the Line of Control. We are also concerned about the fact that, according to New Delhi, the army base near Uri was attacked from Pakistani territory.

“We believe that this criminal act will be investigated properly, and that its organisers and perpetrators will be held accountable.

“We confirm our continued support for the Indian government’s counter-terrorism efforts,” it said.

Uri attack: We will respond ‘at the time and place’ of our own choosing, says Army

New Delhi: The Army on Monday said it reserves the right to respond to any cross-border terror attack “at the time and place of our own choosing”, a day after the Uri strike that was blamed on a Pakistan-based terror outfit JeM sparking calls for exercising military options.

Soldiers stand outside the army base which was attacked. PTI

Soldiers stand outside the army base which was attacked. PTI

The Army also said it has the desired capability to respond to any blatant acts of aggression and violence as deemed appropriate by them. The remarks by Director General of Military Operations, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh came at a time when some security experts and political leaders have called for targeting terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir(PoK) after the attack that left 18 soldiers dead and over two dozen injured.

“The Indian Army has displayed considerable restraint while handling the terrorist situation both along the Line of Control and in hinterland. However, we have the desired capability to respond to such blatant acts of aggression and violence as deemed appropriate by us,” Lt Gen Singh said in a statement to the media at the South Block.

“We reserve the right to respond to any act of the adversary at the time and place of our own choosing,” he added. Lt Gen Singh’s remark was identical to the statement given by then Army chief Gen Bikram Singh in 2013 after the 8 January violation of the Line of Control(LoC) in which one jawan was beheaded and the other had his throat slit.

“We’ll give them a fitting reply…we will respond at a time and place of our choosing,” he had said. Following the Pathankot attack earlier this year, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had also said the same. However, top Army sources told PTI that action will be taken but nature and timing of it will not be revealed at the moment.

“There should be an element of surprise which is not there at the moment as Pakistan will be prepared for a retaliation. The Indian Army of course has its strategy in place and will do its job,” the sources said.

Pakistan’s lack of sincerity is closing window of goodwill: Parrikar

Singapore: Prime Minister Narendra Modi had opened a “window of goodwill and dialogue” with Pakistan, but it was slowly closing due to lack of sincerity by Islamabad, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Saturday.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTIDefence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

“Prime Minister Modi opened a window of opportunities when he visited Pakistan Prime Minister (Nawaz Sharif). I think that window is slowly closing. Before it closes, Pakistan needs to develop that trust with India on its sincerity on the approach,” he said here at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Noting that Pakistan separates terrorists between good ones and bad ones, he said, “They are after bad ones but the
good ones are promoted to operate in Afghanistan and India. I think that needs to be tackled at a diplomatic level.”

Parrikar’s remarks was in reference to Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore in December 2015 to meet Sharif.

The India-Pakistan talks, which had started during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad
for the Heart of Asia conference, was stalled after the 2 January attack on Pathankot airbase in which seven Indian
security personnel were killed.

India has accused Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group for the attack and has linked the resumption of the
dialogue process to the action taken by Pakistan against the group.

Need for ‘visible progress’ in Pathankot probe, India tells Pakistan

New Delhi: India has conveyed to Pakistan the need for early and “visible progress” in the Pathankot airbase terror attack probe in that country, Rajya Sabha was told on Wednesday.

Minister of State for Home Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said in Rajya Sabha that the case of terror attack on Pathankot airbase is reported to be under investigation in Pakistan.

Pathankot air base. AFP

Pathankot air base. AFP

“The government has emphasised the need for early and visible progress in the investigation in Pakistan of the Pathankot airbase terrorist attack, during the meeting of the Indian Foreign Secretary with the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan on 26 April, 2016,” he said replying to a written question.

The Minister said that the National Investigation Agency has provided evidences such as certified copies of post-mortem reports, medical legal reports, call data reports, DNA reports, the seizure memo articles from the scene of crime and statements of key witnesses showing involvement of Pakistan based terrorist groups/ individuals to Pakistan’s Joint Investigation Team (JIT) during its visit to India from 27-31 March in connection with the Pathankot attack.

Seven security personnel were killed in the terror attack on Pathankot airbase carried out by Pakistan-based JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammad) terror group on 2 January.

Masood Azhar veto case: India takes up issue with China ‘at a fairly high level’

New Delhi: India has taken up at a “fairly high level” with China the issue of Beijing blocking its bid to have JeM chief and Pathankot attack mastermind Masood Azhar as designated terrorist by the UN, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said on Wednesday.

Asserting that India will continue to pursue the matter with China in the context of the UN, he also noted that the government has had a “backing and forthing” on the issue with the Chinese.

“My sense is that the particular issue that you referred to is something we have taken up with the Chinese. We have taken it up at a sort of fairly high level and we will continue to pursue this with the Chinese,” Jaishankar said.

Masood Azhar. ReutersMasood Azhar. Reuters

Masood Azhar. Reuters

He was replying to a question during an interaction on India’s position on China blocking for the second time country’s bid at the UN to get Azhar banned.

At the same time, he indicated that the issue was not going affect India’s relationship with China in other areas.

“This is an issue to be pursued with the Chinese in a UN context. I would not like to give the impression that somehow this is going to overflow into other areas. We have had a backing and forthing with them on this issue. We have to wait and see where this goes,” he said.

Last week, China stopped UN sanctions committee from designating Azhar as terrorist, maintaining that the case “did not meet the requirements” of the Security Council.

This is not the first time China has blocked India’s bid to get Pakistan-based militant groups and leaders proscribed by the UN.

The UN had banned the JeM in 2001 but India’s efforts for slapping sanctions on Azhar after the 2008 Mumbai terror attack also did not fructify as China, that has veto powers, did not allow it apparently at the behest of Pakistan again.

Last July, China had similarly halted India’s move in the UN to take action against Pakistan for its release of Mumbai terror attack mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, saying its stand was “based on facts and in the spirit of objectiveness and fairness” with Beijing again claiming at the time that it was in touch with New Delhi.

Asked about the border issue with China, the Foreign Secretary said if capabilities are more “one sided”, there is a greater temptation to disturb the status quo.

“So to the extent capabilities are better balanced, the status quo is better preserved.

“Balancing capabilities on our end, certainly requires better infra, better equipment, better preparation… So I think that is very much the focus of what is today the policy within the government,” he said.

China, which claims Arunachal Pradesh is part of Southern Tibet, says that the border dispute is confined to 2,000 km mostly in the northeastern state.

However, India asserts that the dispute covers the western side of the border, spanning to about 4,000 km including Aksai Chin area in Ladakh occupied by China in the 1962 war.

About overall ties with China, the Foreign Secretary said the considerable potential of economic cooperation between the two countries is beginning to get unlocked.

Pathankot attack: NIA officer involved in probe shot dead; wife critically injured

A National Investigation Agency inspector was shot dead on Saturday night in his hometown in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district, sources said on Sunday.

Inspector Mohammad Tanzil was returning from a wedding along with his wife and children when they were accosted and shot at by unidentified assailants near Sahaspur town. The gunmen, who were riding motorbikes, had followed the family.

“He along with his wife was returning from the wedding of his niece when two unidentified bike-borne persons stopped his car and shot at him. He was declared dead at a nearby hospital,” Rajkumar, SHO, Bijnor, said.

His wife was critically also injured and was rushed to hospital.

The NIA has rushed a team led by a deputy inspector general from Lucknow to probe Ahmed’s murder.

The attack comes days after the Pakistan Joint Investigation Team looking into the 2 January attack on Pathankot airforce base completed its five-day long India leg of their investigation and returned home.

Hindustan Times reported that the Pakistan JIT requested NIA to share evidence in the case. NIA officials told the publication that the written request was made under Section 188 of the Pakistani CrPC. This section is used to prosecute Pakistani nationals for committing crimes in other countries, they said.

However, according to sources close to the JIT, New Delhi failed to provide evidence to Islamabad’s Joint Investigation Team to prove their allegation that Pakistan based militants stormed the Air Force base.

The JIT members visited Pathankot airbase on 29 March where Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials briefed and showed them the route from where the attackers stormed the airbase.

Pakistani investigators were allowed to enter the military airbase from the narrow adjacent route instead of the main entrance and the duration of their visit was just 55 minutes, enough to take a mere walk through the airbase, Geo News quoted sources as saying, adding that the JIT could not collect evidence in this limited time.

With inputs from agencies

Pathankot probe: Suspended Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh to be quizzed by Pakistan JIT

New Delhi: Suspended Gurdaspur Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh on Thursday arrived at the NIA headquarters here to be questioned by the Joint Investigation Team from Pakistan on the Pathankot terror attack.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Singh, his cook Madan Gopal and friend Rajesh Verma reached the NIA office where the JIT will question the three in the presence of National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials, informed sources told IANS.

The three were questioned by the NIA on 26 March in the national capital and have been living under the agency’s supervision since then, the sources said.

Singh has claimed that he, Verma and cook Gopal were abducted by four or five heavily-armed terrorists near Punjab’s Kolia village on 2 January.

The terrorists later attacked the Pathankot Indian Air Force base in which seven security personnel were killed. The Pakistani terrorists were later killed in a shootout.

The Pakistani team is in India to probe the Pathankot attack, which New Delhi says was masterminded by Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar.

On Monday and Tuesday, the NIA submitted evidence to the five-member Pakistani team on the terror attack.

According to NIA sources, the evidence show that the Pathankot operation was planned by elements in Pakistan.

The visiting team comprises among others Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) official Lt. Colonel Tanvir Ahmed and military intelligence officer Lt. Colonel Irfan Mirza.

Pathankot probe: NIA reveals names of four fidayeen attackers, evidence admissible in Pakistan court

In a major breakthrough in the Pathankot attack case, the National Investigation Agency(NIA) has identified the four fidayeen who attacked the IAF airbase and two of their Pakistan-based Jaish operators.

A Times of India report reveals the names of the four fidayeen  — Nasir Hussain, Hafiz Abu Bakar,  Abdul Qayum and Umar Farooq. The report also reveals that these attackers’ residence Vehari (Punjab), Gujranwala (Punjab), Sukkur (Sindh) and Sanghar (Sindh) districts in Pakistan.

The NIA has shared this information with the Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT). The names and addresses of the attacker were discovered after their bodies were recovered from the encounter site and according to Sharad Kumar, DG NIA, they are waiting for the JIT to give them a confirmation on the names and get back to the NIA.

A source, speaking to DNA, has said that Pakistan has more than enough evidence that the attackers were affiliated with Jaish and that they should punish them. The source further added that the JIT will investigate into the issue for a few more days – which includes talking to the witnesses – and have also allegedly expressed their satisfaction. The JIT, reported DNA, will require all the evidence  under section 188 of their criminal procedure code (Cr PC) so they can produce it back in their courts; this would empower them to collect information about nationals in their country that are involved in crimes in other countries.

The Pakistan investigative team that has come to India for probing the Pathankot attack. IbnliveThe Pakistan investigative team that has come to India for probing the Pathankot attack. Ibnlive

The Pakistan investigative team that has come to India for probing the Pathankot attack. Ibnlive

Pakistani-based operators, identified as Kashif Jan and Shahid Latif, are allegedly responsible for operations in operations Sailkot and lauching cadres in India respectively, reported TOI.

The report further added that Kashif has been missing since his name came in the investigations and Latif was deported back to Pakistan after having served 10 years in an Indian jail.

The NIA is slated to visit Pakistan to further the Indian side of investigations, hoping to get access to Maulana Masood Azhar and his brother Rauf.

The investigations carried out on Wednesday included the NIA seeking voice samples of Azhar, Rauf, Latif and Kashif and DNA/voice samples of Fidayeen Nasir’s mother, identified as Khayyam Baber, who received calls from her son from Pathankot, said TOI‘s report.

The NIA’s probe into the attacks has eliminated all possibilities of the JIT denying that the attack was planned on their soil and facilitated by Pakistani fidayeen and handlers.

The JIT will examine witnesses which include Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh, Rajesh Verma who is Salwinder’s jeweller’s friend Salwinder’s personal cook Madan Gopal, said the DNA report. The witness examinations will be done through NIA officials and not directly by the JIT.

11 police personnel protect bodies of four Pathankot terrorists since Air Force base attack

Pathankot: Eleven policemen have been on duty round-the-clock at the civil hospital morgue here for the past almost three months to protect the bodies of four terrorists killed after they attacked the Air Force Base here in January.

An NIA official said the hospital authorities have been asked to preserve the bodies as they are “evidence for us”, and this has kept the policemen on their toes.

The visiting JIT from Pakistan did not examine the bodies on Tuesday, officials said.

Representative image. AFPRepresentative image. AFP

Representative image. AFP

“It has been 80 days now. I cannot afford to lower guard even for a minute,” constable Dalbir Singh, whose job, along with his colleagues’, is to protect the morgue in the only government hospital here, said.

Head constable Vinod Kumar is on alert whenever anybody approaches the morgue.

“We have clear instructions not to allow anyone near the room. If terrorists could come till the airbase, then this place cannot be beyond their reach. Our senior officers conduct daily rounds to check on the bodies and a van from the police control room is also stationed near the boundary wall every night,” Kumar said.

The terrorists were eliminated in a counteroffensive by security forces on January 2. The bodies were handed over to the hospital on January 7, the hospital authorities said.

Senior medical officer at the hospital, Dr Bhupinder Singh said, “Since we got the bodies four-five days after the encounter, there were some changes in them.”

They are being preserved in deep freezers at temperatures between minus three and four degrees Celsius, he said.

But with only two freezers available, two bodies share space in each compartment.

The bodies have started to decompose, the policemen on duty confide. It is a challenge to keep them intact as grenade explosion had also caused considerable damage to them, they say.

A policeman posted at the morgue said unbearable stench comes out whenever power goes off.

“It becomes difficult to even stand here. When there is no electricity, the freezer stops working. The ice melts and stinking water comes out. Forget the stink it is also harmful for health as it contains hazardous fluid of the dead bodies,” the policeman said.

When the bodies were brought they were covered with dry blood and had bullet holes all over, said Chaman Lal, the attendant at the morgue.

Lal has been assisting doctors in conducting autopsies at the hospital since 1991.

There are maggots all over the bodies, he said. “I have to clean them at regular intervals. It has been so many days, it’s difficult to clean the maggots,” Lal added.


Pathankot attack probe: Pakistan JIT won’t be allowed inside the Indian Air Force base or near the crime scene

India shared the evidence it has collected on the Pathankot attack with Pakistan on Monday after the two countries began formal discussions on investigations into January’s terror attack at the Indian Air Force base, making it the first-ever visit of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) — that included an ISI official — from the neighbouring country.

According to CNN-IBN, India’s National Investigating Agency showed the JIT the evidence that proves the Pakistani establishment was complicit in the attack. It also gave the phone numbers to which terrorists made calls. However, the JIT has asked permission to interrogate the commander of the IAF air base, asked for call details of the Punjab officer Salwinder Singh who was purportedly abducted by the terrorists, copies of all FIRs registered in connection with the case, and the mobile phones recovered from the terrorists.

Sources told CNN-IBN that India is unlikely to hand over the handsets.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The five-member Pakistani JIT is headed by Chief of Punjab’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Muhammad Tahir Rai and comprises Lahore’s Deputy Director General, Intelligence Bureau, Mohammad Azim Arshad, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) official Lieutenant-Colonel Tanvir Ahmed, Military Intelligence official Lieutenant-Colonel Irfan Mirza and Gujaranwala CTD Investigating Officer, Shahid Tanveer.

The team was received at the headquarters of National Investigation Agency by Inspector-General Sanjiv Kumar Singh.

The Pakistanis are being given a detailed presentation on the probe done by Indian agencies so far and evidences that show that the attack was planned in Pakistan, official sources said.

The team, that arrived on Sunday, will on Tuesday visit Pathankot for the probe into the attack carried out by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror group on 2 January, which left seven security personnel dead.

The IAF base will be visually barricaded by NIA to prevent any view of critical areas.

The NIA team will however, show some of the areas where the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists engaged in an 80-hour-long gun battle with security personnel.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar categorically said on Monday that the defence ministry had “not permitted” the visiting team into the Indian Air Force base and that the crime scene, handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), had been isolated.

Parrikar said the Defence Ministry “refused permission” to the probe team to access the airbase but added: “The crime scene has been handed over to the NIA. Who they want to bring there is their call.”

The minister said the area had been fenced and had no contact with the airbase. The probe team was not given permission to interact with any defence personnel or use any defence vehicle.

“If we don’t give (NIA) the freedom for investigation, the burden of failure will come to the defence ministry,” Parrikar added.

India plans to provide the Pakistani team access to all witnesses in the case, but not to the security personnel from National Security Guard or BSF.

The witnesses include Punjab Police Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh, his jeweller friend Rajesh Verma, cook Madan Gopal and 17 injured persons.

Sources said that cooperation with the Pakistani team would be based on the principle of reciprocity hoping that an Indian team would be allowed to travel to Pakistan at a later date. It may be recalled that in the 26 November, 2008 Mumbai attacks case, Pakistan had sent a judicial commission to cross-examine some of the witnesses in the case.

With inputs from PTI

‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’: JuD’s video featuring Pak army chief Raheel Sharif is another cause of worry for India

Indian security agencies have long been pointing out that terrorist organisations and separatist elements have been using social media to propagate their ideology. The latest controversial propaganda tool is a video titled ‘Kashmir Banay Ga Pakistan’ (Kashmir will become a part of Pakistan).

A screengrab from the video. Image courtesy: YoutubeA screengrab from the video. Image courtesy: Youtube

A screengrab from the video. Image courtesy: Youtube

The video has been created by Dawa Productions, and has been posted on the Twitter page of JuD official videos, belonging to the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which has been declared by the United Nations as a terrorist organisation. While Pakistan has banned media coverage of the organisation in November, it has said that the organisation as such is not banned.

Apart from the usual suspects like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Asiya Andrabi and Hafiz Sayeed, the video also features a photograph of Pakistan’s army chief Raheel Sharif, along with an Urdu caption saying ‘Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan,’ as per a report in Hindustan Times.

The video is part of a larger campaign launched by the JuD ahead of ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’, which is observed on 5 February, as reported by news website Only Kashmir. On this day in 1990, major protests were held in Pakistan protesting Indian rule over Pakistan, after which the Benazir Bhutto-led government declared it as a national holiday.

The video also shows Afzal Guru arrested by the police, and subsequently features a photograph of the Indian Parliament, even as an explosion is heard in the background. Afzal Guru has been repeatedly portrayed as a martyr by Kashmiri separatist organisations, particularly after he was hanged in secrecy for his role in the terror attack on the Parliament building in 2001.

In spite of a ban on coverage of the JuD, its chief Hafiz Saeed on 4 January gave an interview to a media outlet from Pakistan, Channel 5 News. To a question on how Pakistan should react to the Pathankot terror attack, Saeed said, “There should not be war. But the question is, who is waging this war?” Saeed also said that Kashmir looks to Pakistan (for help in resolving the conflict), and that Pakistan should not turn a blind eye to them. A video of this interview, too, is shared by the JuD on Twitter.

Hafiz Saeed’s rhetoric, however is significantly stronger in public rallies than in interviews to TV channels. In a rally in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Saeed alleged that Indian troops are committing ‘genocide’ on Kashmiris, and said, “Don’t they have a right to carry out Pathankot-style attacks for their defence?,” India Today reported.

The emergence of propaganda on social media has been worrying security forces for a while now. In July last year, an army officer was quoted as saying that social media has become a ‘powerful medium’ and that people are turning towards terror because of the lack of opportunities.

In this context, the JuD’s continuing propaganda is a source of worry for the Indian security establishment. Even as the organisation faces international condemnation, Pakistan continues to deny the group’s terror link. Pakistan’s interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, in a written statement in its parliament has said that it is ‘engaged in charity and social work, operating hospitals, clinics, school, ambulance service and religious institutions’, according to a report in Hindustan Times.

With Pakistan choosing to turn a blind eye to the JuD, the organisation remains a challenge for India on the anti-terrorism front.

You can watch the video here:

Delhi Police issues alert after taxi driver from Pathankot found dead

New Delhi: Delhi Police on Friday issued an alert after the driver of a taxi hired by three unidentified persons from Pathankot was found dead in Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh, in the aftermath of the airbase attack.

The taxi driver, identified as Vijay Kumar, a resident of Gaggal village in Kangra district, was found dead on Wednesday at the Kalta bridge in Kangra and his taxi missing, police said.

The Delhi Police tweeted out alerts from their official Twitter handle saying:

According to a DNA report, the Delhi Police had been on alert since the blue beacon flashing SUV of a senior IPS officer was stolen.

Asked on the threat perception, Delhi police Commissioner BS Bassi urged people in the city to remain alert without
disclosing any further details citing security concerns.

Meanwhile, speaking to The Hindustan Times, Deputy Commissioner of Police Rajan Bhagat said, “There is no need to panic but we urge people to stay alert. Citizens should inform the police control room if they see any suspicious activity around them.”

The alert was issued in the backdrop of the attack on IAF base in Pathankot where terrorists had first killed a cab driver and robbed his car before launching the strike.

The image tweeted out by the Delhi Police. Image courtesy: @DelhiPolice /TwitterThe image tweeted out by the Delhi Police. Image courtesy: @DelhiPolice /Twitter

The image tweeted out by the Delhi Police. Image courtesy: @DelhiPolice /Twitter

Delhi Police has approached media houses in helping it find the car and spread the alert message through retweets.

This alert comes right ahead of the Republic Day parade in the National Capital, for which security was already heightened.

On Monday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the security situation in Delhi with Delhi Police Commissioner Bassi and other senior officials from intelligence and security agencies.

As per Home Ministry sources, the security machinery is fully alert to foil any threat by terror groups and possible presence of Islamic State sympathisers is also being factored.

“There may make an attempt to undermine the sense of security through small actions such as knife attack on security personnel or snatching of service weapons. But the security agencies are alert and will foil any such attempt,” a ministry source said.

The Pathankot terror attack has been weighing heavy on the minds of India’s security machinery and all security aspects are being looked into.

With agency inputs