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J&K: HM Struggling to Revive

J&K: HM Struggling to Revive

Sanchita Bhattacharya | 14 Dec 2015, 09:57 pm
Visiting Scholar, Institute for Conflict Management On December 1, 2015, Security Forces (SFs) arrested a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) militant, identified as Nawaz Ahmad Najar, from Harmain village, Shopian District, and recovered arms and ammunition, including two hand grenades and one Chinese grenade, among others. "The terrorist has been involved in subversive activities since August this year in Shopian area," an unnamed Army official disclosed.

On November 23, three HM terrorists, identified as Sartaj Ahmad Lone, Adil Ahmad Sheikh and Tanveer Ahmad Bhat, were killed in a joint operation initiated by the Army and Special Operations Group (SOG) of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Police in the Sulligam region of Anantnag District. Reports indicate that the militants were from the Bijbehara area of Anantnag District. Three AK-47 rifles, six magazines, an Underbarrel Grenade Launcher with three grenades, and a pistol with a magazine were recovered from the encounter site.

Earlier, on October 26, 2015, two HM militants, identified as Afaq-Ullah-Bhat and Abdul Manan Dar, were killed in an encounter at Drabgam village in Pulwama District. AJunior Commissioned Officer of the Army, who sustained injuries during the encounter, died later.

On October 22, two HM militants, identified as Irshad Ahmad and Adil Khanday, were killed in an encounter at Manzimpora in Shopian District. A large quantity of arms, ammunition and other war like stores were recovered from the slain terrorists.

On September 22, 2015, HM militant Muzamil Ahmad Dar was killed in a brief gunfight at Awantipora in Pulwama District. Sources indicated that there were three militants hiding in the area and two managed to escape.

According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) over a time-frame of a decade (2005-2015), a total of 628 HM militants have been killed by SFs in J&K (data till December 13, 2015), and 653 HM militants were arrested by the SFs. During the current year alone, at least 24 HM militants have been killed and another 21 arrested.

However, HM was found involved in only 58 major incidents (involving three or more fatalities) resulting in 236 deaths between 2005 and 2015. During this period, the State had recorded a total of 344 such incidents resulting in 1,572 deaths. Out of a total of 1,316 civilian fatalities, HM was responsible for 84. Similarly, out of a total of 944 SF fatalities, HM was accountable for 108. HM's last reported attack targeting civilians occurred on May 8, 2009, when HM militants shot dead three persons, including a woman, at Bandara village in the Gulabgarh area of Reasi District.

Similarly, it was on June 24, 2013, that HM had last targeted SFs. Eight Army personnel were killed and another 11 sustained injuries when two heavily armed HM militants ambushed an Army convoy in the Hyderpora area of Srinagar (Srinagar District). On December 7, 2015, militants, in army fatigues, attacked a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy along the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway near Semthan village in Anantnag District. Their fire was returned by the CRPF personnel and, in the brief gunfight, seven CRPF men and a civilian were injured. Both HM and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) separately claimed responsibility for the attack.

HM had experienced a long decline and as far back as October 2011 reports suggested that the group was slowly fading away, with its 'commanders' and cadres being taken out on a regular interval by SFs. According to estimates at that time, there were just over two dozen active militants left in the group, and even these cadres did not resort to any major action. A senior official disclosed, "They are basically reduced to throwing occasional grenades or random firing. even those are very rare."

There is now evidence that HM is making an attempt to resurrect its activities in J&K. On August 3, 2015, an HM sleeper cell was neutralized in Srinagar, the State capital, with Police arresting its self-styled 'commander', a UK-based Kashmiri physiotherapist, Mohammad Shaheen Baba alias Zaid-bin Tariq. One Chinese pistol with magazine, 25 live rounds, incriminating documents and a mobile phone were seized. Baba's interrogation report indicated that he was originally a resident of Chadoora, Budgam District, but had been working in the UK as a physiotherapist and living in London since 2006. He married an American national of Pakistani origin and visited Pakistan, where he got in touch with HM 'commanders' and, on their directions, established the sleeper cell. The group was planning to carry out IED [Improvised Explosive Device] blasts in the Valley, especially in Srinagar city. According to reports, during interrogation, Baba disclosed, "Amir Khan ('deputy supreme commander' of HM) directed us to target senior retired Police officers who had played an active role in counter-insurgency operations over the years... Amir directed me to create a new module of militants in which I was advised to recruit youth who had no past links with militancy or any political party. He further informed me that once the module was established and equipped, (he) will help in fund transfer locally". Baba was also told by his handlers from Pakistan to collect information about the activities of two middle rung All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders, both from Central Kashmir, who were working for Indian agencies. However, Baba told interrogators, he didn't get time to keep tabs on their activities.

Reports also suggest that terrorists in J&K [including HM] were now changing strategy and evolving. An August 2015 report claimed, "The commanders now don't waste time on sending youngsters to Pakistan. They first ask them to get a weapon. Then they assign them a target. Those who clear the first two stages are recruited. This serves an ulterior purpose: once a youngster carries out a strike, he can't go back. Loyalty is guaranteed".

In recent times, HM has established its presence in the cyber domain as well. According to another August 2015 report, a post on Facebook titled 'Tral: The Land of Martyrs', surfaced with HM's South Kashmir 'commander' Burhan Muzaffar Wani in it. Burhan has a bounty of INR one million on his head. Interestingly, within the first 12 hours after it was uploaded, the post drew 900 likes and more than 60 comments, all of them exhibiting awe and fawning admiration for Wani, who has emerged as the poster boy for a new generation of Kashmiri militants, credited with resuscitating a dying jihadin the Valley. There are around a dozen Facebook pages dedicated to Wani, with titles such as 'We Love Burhan Bhai', 'Burhan Bhai Son of Kashmir', 'Lovers of Mujahid Burhan Trali', etc. Updated round-the-clock with Wani's photographs, other jihadimessages and photos from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East, the pages attract a barrage of likes and comments.

HM also announced a recruitment drive from August 21, 2015, onwards, usingWhatsapp. Wani's 'lieutenants' spread the word offering INR 35,000 as 'salary' to anybody willing to join HM. Only those who had cleared Class X could apply. Terrorists like Wani are now selling terrorism as a mix of employment and heroism, as he projects himself in videos in the company of youth, with fancy weapons, wandering around nonchalantly.

Unsurprisingly, a report dated November 27, 2015, indicated that the current threat perception was highest from HM and not LeT or Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) as, unlike the other two outfits, HM has tried to move away from conventional terrorism, using propaganda and social media to attract increasing numbers of recruits. In terms of finance, reports suggest that, while Pakistan continues to be the biggest donor, HM funds have also come in from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and some Western nations.

Meanwhile, a new faction of HM, Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) has proved to be extremely violent, especially targeting mobile transmission towers and devices in the valley. Recent reports also suggest fratricidal killings within HM-LeI ranks. In a major setback to LeI, headed by Qayoom Najjar, three of his associates identified as Amir Reshi, Ashiq Wani, and Naveed Ahmad Khan were found dead in the local orchards of Shutz Dangerpora village on the Nihalpora-Wailo Road in the Pattan area in Baramulla District on September 14, 2015. Police suspect factional rivalry behind the killings.

After its protracted marginalization among terrorist formations in J&K, HM is making a clear bid for revival. There is a new strategy and appeal in evidence, with aggressive use of social media and a direct and well funded outreach to youth, particularly in the Valley. The group has, however, already suffered some critical losses as well as a factional split, and there are obvious opportunities for SFs to contain the danger before it rises any further.


J&K: HM Struggling to Revive

Sanchita Bhattacharya
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