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Deadly message from Sopore: IEDs are back in use in Kashmir

Riyaz Wani | Updated on: 6 January 2018, 20:46 IST
(Arya Sharma)

Four policemen on patrol duty were killed early Saturday morning when militants detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in the North Kashmir town of Sopore. The IED had been planted near a shop. It exploded when the policemen reached there.

Among the dead included an Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police Irshad Ahmad. Others were identified as Ghulam Nabi, Mohammed Amin and Parvaiz Ahmed.

The police men had been deployed on security duty in view of the 25th anniversary of the Sopore massacre in which 57 people were killed.

The attack was claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad, making it thus the first such attack launched by the outfit in North Kashmir after more than a decade. In a statement issued to a local news agency GNS, Jaish-e-Mohammad spokesperson claimed that the outfit’s “Shaheed Afzal Guru squad carried out the attack.

Only a week ago, the outfit had launched a fidayeen strike on a security camp at Lethpora in South Kashmir killing five CRPF personnel. This once again underlines the growing reach of the outfit which dramatically reappeared on the scene only last year after lying dormant for several years.

The outfit which earlier comprised mainly of Pakistanis and is known for carrying out suicide attacks on high-profile security targets – it was Jaish which attacked Pathankot air base in January 2016 – has now started recruiting Kashmiri youth to its ranks. Among the three militants who struck Lethpora camp, two were Kashmiri youth, one of them was the son of a police constable who even made a self-video exhorting jihad before the attack.

Similarly, it is also the first IED blast in Kashmir since early 2000s. The use of IEDs in Kashmir was mainly attributed to Hizbul Mujahideen but in 2007 the outfit announced a ban on the use of antipersonnel mines in the state on the urging of the Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). Soon after the use of IEDs drastically reduced in the state. But now Jaish has brought these back into use and to a deadly effect.

And if the use continues, it is likely to add a disturbing new dimension to the deteriorating security situation in the state, a fact underlined by the Additional Director General of Police Muneer Khan too.

“The IED blasts had almost stopped. We will have to think about to how to deal about it. We will have to chalk out some new strategy. We will put our heads together and think,” said Khan while talking to media on the sidelines of the wreath-laying ceremony of the four slain police personnel. Khan added that it was “a huge IED which martyred four police men”.

However, Khan said, police were still verifying the Jaish claim about the IEDs, saying the police will “see other aspects also and see which claims are true”.

“It seems there is a new hand who is an expert in this (IED planting),” Khan said.

Earlier, Abdul Qayoom Najar, the Valley’s longest surviving militant who was killed in September last was the only IED expert in Valley. The significance of Najar’s killing could be gauged from the fact that it was the BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav who was among the very first to break the news through a tweet.

Already, without J&K, India had the highest number of IED blasts in the world during 2015 and 2016. According to Bombshell, a journal from National Bomb Data Centre, there were 337 Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) blasts in India in 2016. In 2015, there were 268 IED blasts, and 190 blasts in 2014, 283 blasts in 2013 and 365 in 2012.

Another worrying dimension to today’s attack is that it happened in Sopore, otherwise a perennially volatile town which in recent years was supposed to have been freed of militancy. Until 2015, the town was the last remaining militant bastions in Kashmir. While the militancy thinned out in the rest of the Valley, including South Kashmir, Sopore had continued to hold out.

But after the revival of the militancy in South Kashmir under Burhan Wani, Sopore receded into background. Successive killings of the remaining local militants precipitated the decline of jihad in the town, making it one of the calmest towns in the Valley. Not anymore.

“Given the high-profile nature of the attack, militancy seems to have returned to the town,” said a police officer. “But we will get to the bottom of it soon, identify and track down the militants who carried out the attack and eliminate them”.

First published: 6 January 2018, 20:46 IST