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WhatsApp from Budgam Traced to Pak: When USA's FBI Helped Pin Down Pulwama Attack Mastermind

A suicide bomber attack on a CRPF convoy in Lethpora in south Kashmir's Pulwama district on February 14, 2019 had led to the death of 40 soldiers. (REUTERS)

A suicide bomber attack on a CRPF convoy in Lethpora in south Kashmir's Pulwama district on February 14, 2019 had led to the death of 40 soldiers. (REUTERS)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation also came to NIA's rescue as the WhatsApp number used by terrorist of a deceased woman in Budgam was traced to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan. Since WhatsApp servers are in US, FBI informally helped India in tracking the masterminds of the Pulwama terror attack.

RDX being weighed on a scale, Fidayeen Adil Ahmed Dar making the IED, WhatsApp chats and the audio notes — the National Investigation Agency has attached a treasure trove of video and audio evidence to its 13,500-page chargesheet in the Pulwama terror attack case. But getting here wasn't easy.

Officials familiar with the investigation told News18 that till late last year the agency was groping in the dark to reveal the Pulwama conspiracy. It was then that they learnt of a battered Samsung phone lying at the Nowgam police station of South Kashmir. This phone was recovered from the encounter site where Jaish terrorists Umer Farooq and Kamran were gunned down.

"Repeated requests were made at the junior level of NIA to Jammu and Kashmir police for handing over the phone but it was finally a phone call to IG Vijay Kumar that the job was done," a senior NIA officer heading investigation told News18.

The phone, however, was under double layer of encryption and NIA sent it to Central Forensic Science Laboratory and CERTIN for data extraction. The Computer Emergency Response team (CERTIN) broke through the encryption and gave NIA the big breakthrough.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation also came to NIA's rescue. Just hours after the attack, a Jaish-e-Mohammed spokesperson had sent a WhatsApp to a Kashmiri news agency claiming responsibility for the attack. This WhatsApp number was traced to a woman in Budgam. "WhatsApp servers are in US, so informally FBI does help all countries with such investigations," a NIA officer told News18.

The lead from FBI conclusively established the Pakistan connection to the Pulwama blast. "The Budgam woman had died long before the attack. Her photo and I-card were used to procure a SIM and a WhatsApp account was created. The technical evidence that foreign agencies provided showed the account was being operated from Muzaffarabad by a Jaish spokesperson Mohammed Hussain," NIA said.

Armed with the POK lead and the photos, WhatsApp chats and videos from Uner Farooq's phone, the NIA arrested one over ground worker after the other. Their interrogation tied the remaining lose ends.

The NIA now plans to send letter rogatories to Pakistan to find out who owned the bank accounts from where 10,30,00 PKR was transferred to Farooq's pakistani bank accounts in January and February 2019 — days before the attack.

The NIA in its chargesheet has attached screenshots of WhatsApp communication between Farooq and his handlers where he presents account of expenses incurred for the Pulwama attack.

first published:August 27, 2020, 11:54 IST