New Delhi: Security agencies have launched a manhunt to nab Abu Ismail, the local Lashkar-e-Taiba commander in South Kashmir now believed to have planned and executed the attack on Amarnath Yatris on Monday night.
Ismail is a Pakistani national and dubbed to be the successor to Lashkar’s chief in Kashmir, the dreaded terrorist and one of the most wanted men in Kashmir — Abu Dujana. Both of them are Pakistani nationals. Ismail was supported by local militants in the attack.
“We have identified Ismail and two other men who were with him during the attack. We have also identified the people who drove them to their spot and who brought them their weapons. We know the direction in which the terrorists are hidden and we’ll hunt them down soon,” said a senior police J&K police official.
On Tuesday morning the Inspector General of Police also identified the main perpetrator of the attack as Abu Ismail. “Attack on Amaranth yatra pilgrims was carried out by LeT, masterminded by Pak terrorist Ismail. He was also supported by local militants,” said Muneer Khan, the IGP.
Meanwhile LeT issued a statement early morning on Tuesday, condemning the attacks and calling it "reprehensible and unIslamic."
"Islam does not allow violence against any faith. We strongly condemn such acts,” the outfit’s spokesperson Abdullah Ghaznavi said in a statement.
While LeT still remains primary suspects in the case, the outfit’s denial in Monday’s attacks is the first of its kind. The outfit, which previously has also attacked Amarnath pilgrims, has never earlier issued a denial.
Security forces have also found a unique angle to Monday’s attacks – the support of local Hizbul Mujahideen cadre.
Lashkar had recently gone on a recruitment drive in the valley and now have about 30 terrorists in South Kashmir, most of who are locals, and about 80 in North Kashmir, who are mostly Pakistani nationals, and are lying low at the moment.
Monday’s attack on Amarnath pilgrims is said to be unique for two reasons. First that till now very rarely have militant groups ever come together to carry out a terror attack. Although as sources in security establishment say, militants from the two outfits have lately been photographed together multiple times, and this has raised the possibility of them working together. In fact, according to sources, Lashkar is also trying to help and revive the almost defunct Jaish-e-Muhammad in the Valley.
The other reason why Monday’s attacks were unique was the element of local support to LeT. In five attacks that have been carried out against Amarnath pilgrims, all were either claimed by or narrowed down to LeT. Hizbul has always maintained a veneer of secularism and has had a policy of not attacking Amarnath pilgrims.
In fact, Hizbul commander Burhan Wani had last year in June issued a video claiming that Amarnath pilgrims had nothing to fear from militant groups. According to a source in state intelligence department, Wani had plans of snooping up on Amarnath pilgrims, right before he was killed in an encounter in South Kashmir and shooting a video with them, assuring them of their safety.
Hizbul's support to LeT to kill Amarnath pilgrims, if found true, will mark a new and perhaps irrevocable shift in its ‘secular’ policy. Such a development could mean more attacks from the militant group, which has the biggest network in Kashmir. And this is now the biggest anxiety for security forces in Kashmir.
“Yes, Hizbul’s policy of not attacking pilgrims now seems to be changing and this is going to be a big change and big challenge for us. Although with the current scenario, this wasn’t quite unexpected also. At the moment now, we’re just preparing ourselves to prevent a repeat attack,” said the officer.
A CRPF officer said that Monday’s attack had the potential of being a “full-scale massacre, the likes of which we haven’t seen in Kashmir before.” This is because the bus, from Gujarat’s Valsad area, was carrying 58 pilgrims, of which only seven were killed.
“The assailants, we now have gathered, tried to kill the bus driver also, but they missed him several times. The bus driver also showed a presence of mind to keep driving till he reached Khanabal, and so saved many lives,” said the officer.