Police in Jammu and Kashmir have shot dead the Jaish-e-Muhammad commander alleged to have organised the 2019 suicide bomb attack that killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel and led India and Pakistan to the edge of war, government sources have confirmed to News18. The Jaish commander was killed along with his bodyguards in a safehouse in the Astan mohalla neighbourhood of Kangan village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama.
The killing of the commander — identified in police and intelligence records by the aliases Fauji Bhai, Idris, Haider, and ‘Lambu’, or tall guy — comes days after the detection of a major Jaish-e-Muhammad car bomb, the first since Kashmir’s special Constitutional status was revoked in August. The plot had raised fears that the terrorist group was preparing to unleash a renewed offensive.
Zahid Manzoor Wani, a resident of Pulwama’s Karimabad village, and Manzoor Ahmad Kar of Siryun in Shopian — both listed in police records as having joined the Jaish in the summer of 2017 — were also shot dead along with Idris, after forces surrounded their safehouse.
The operation, government sources said, was built around intelligence generated by the Jammu and Kashmir Police over several months and supervised by Kashmir-zone Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar. "His elimination shows the police has been able to infiltrate the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s networks to an unprecedented degree,” an intelligence official told News18.
“Like other key Jaish-e-Muhammad operatives,” the official said, “Fauji Bhai almost never used a mobile phone or commercial internet networks, and conducted his communications almost entirely through trusted couriers. He communicated with Jaish-e-Muhammad headquarters only with an encrypted satellite phone set”.
Few biographical details are available on Fauji Bhai, but intelligence sources say he was sent across the Line of Control into India in the summer of 2018 by Jaish-e-Muhammad military chief Abdul Rauf Asgar, in the wake of the large-scale Islamist-led youth protests that swept aside Indian government control in swathes of southern Kashmir. Asgar, the sources said, hand-picked Fauji Bhai because of his expertise in fabricating improvised explosive devices.
India’s Research and Analysis Wing suspects Fauji Bhai may be Mohammad Ismail Alvi, a relative of Jaish-e-Muhammad patriarch Masood Azhar Alvi, who in turn is brother to military chief Asgar. There has been no corroboration of this claim though from other intelligence services or Jaish-e-Muhammad publications. In the past, Jaish-e-Muhammad publications and social-media feeds have carried hagiographies of Alvi family members killed in the course of jihadist operations.
The commander, the sources said, focused on rebuilding the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s capacity to stage complex suicide strikes using improvised explosive devices — long a hallmark of the group, which among other things bombed the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly in 2001, and the attack on Parliament House in New Delhi later that year.
From safehouses in Pulwama’s Chewa Kalan and Rajpora areas, as well as Chadoora in Budgam, Fauji Bhai built an elaborate network to source ammonium nitrate — a commonly-used fertiliser that can also be used as an explosive — as well as fabrication spaces for improvised explosive devices.
He was also successful in motivating a new cohort of ethnic-Kashmiri jihadists to personally engage in suicide attacks, a project built around a carefully-engineered cult of Afzal Guru, the Parliament House attacker executed by the government in 2013. The recruits included Adil Dar, the 20-year-old who carried out the 2019 suicide-bombing in Pulwama. “By the time this video reaches you,” Dar said in a suicide video, “I will be frolicking in paradise”.
Police are seeking to locate Adil Ahmad Hafiz, another Fauji Bhai recruit suspected of having to volunteered to drive the car-bomb located in Pulwama last week.
In the wake of the Indian Air Force bombing of a Jaish-e-Muhammad seminary in Pakistan’s Balakot — an attack intended as reprisal for the killing of the 40 CRPF personnel — Fauji Bhai is believed by police to have personally carried out a car-bomb strike at Trichal, which targetted a mine-proof vehicle used by the Indian Army. Nine soldiers of the 55 Rashtriya Rifles regiment sustained serious injuries in the attack.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate is believed by Indian intelligence to have ordered an end to the car-bomb campaign after the Trichal bombing, under pressure from Western governments which feared an escalation in conflict between the two countries.
“The attempted car-bomb strike in Pulwama last week suggests the hounds were being unleashed by the ISI again”, a senior intelligence official told News18. “The killing of Fauji Bhai today is a major setback to those plans”.