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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Kashmir ‘shrine believers’ challenge radical Islamists from heart of Srinagar

’85-90 pc Valley Muslims have reverence for saints and shrines’

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Mar 23: Wittingly or unwittingly timed on “Yaum-e-Pakistan”, a conglomerate of Muslim religious outfits today organized its show of strength at Batmaloo, heart of the congested Capital city. Unfazed by an armed attack on its prominent functionary, Pir Jalal-ud-din, Muttahida Ulema-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat w-al-Jamaat (MUASWJ) sought a thorough investigation into all guerrilla strikes on ‘believers of saints and shrines’.

Close on the heels of two mysterious shootouts at Sarai Bala and Batmaloo, MUASWJ organized a march of its followers in vicinity of the revered shrine of Batmaloo Sahab. Most prominent exponents of this nascent religious movement, including the Karwaan-e-Islami founder Maulana Ghulam Rasool Haami, led the march and later addressed a news conference on the shrine premises. With most of the Valley’s separatist religious and political leaders, including hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, enjoying an at home at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi on occasion of Pakistan’s national day, the green-turban alliance claimed in the heart of Srinagar that 85 to 90 percent of Kashmiri Muslims believed in saints and shrines.

MUASWJ leaders complained that the spiritual leaders believing in saints and shrines were being targeted under a concerted campaign in the Valley. They claimed that all attacks on the moderate religious leaders and spiritual activists, from the one on Qazi Nisar in Anantnag in June 1994 to the latest on Pir Jalal-ud-din in Srinagar, in March 2012, had happened in a chain. The motive, according to them, was to browbeat, terrorise and silence the voice of the shrine believers (Ahl-e-Aetiquaad) in the Valley.

The MUASWJ speakers claimed that Mirwaiz Qazi Nisar of Anantnag, saint Ahad Sahab of Sopore, Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, Maulana Abdul Rashid Dawoodi and now Maulana Jalal-ud-din of Batmaloo had been attacked with guns and grenades on account of their unflinching faith and belief in shrines and spiritual leaders and promotion of this school of thought in Kashmir. They described it “most shocking” that recent terror attack on Jalal-ud-din had happened when he was making preparations for a Meelaad procession (a rally to celebrate the birth day of Prophet Mohammad) in Batmaloo. Jalal-ud-din, who had sustained gunshots on his body, is still under treatment at SKIMS, Soura.

Much-revered saint Ahad Sahab of Sopore, who had a miraculous escape in a grenade attack on him nearly six years back, died natural death in 2010. His followers included senior politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, advocates and judges including a judge of J&K High Court. Several of Maulana Dawoodi’s followers had died and sustained injuries when he came under a fatal grenade attack at Tahab in Pulwama district few years back.

Maulana Haami and Dawoodi, who have established substantial base in the Valley in the last 10 years, are known as the leading proponents of Bareillvi school of thought. Even after a series of guerrilla attacks on them, they have been organizing massive processions and openly challenging the hardliners and all those not believing in spiritual leaders and Muslim shrines. Of late, Government has been providing them support, overtly and covertly, which has made them suspects in the eyes of Valley’s radical separatist and religious leadership.

Hardliners have been publicly condemning the guerrilla attacks on these spiritual leaders and emphasizing that were aimed at dividing the Kashmiri Muslims on sectarian and ideological basis and thus “weakening the freedom struggle”. In his recent reaction, Geelani has condemned the attack on Jalal-ud-din and said that he would have called on him “if not held continuously under house arrest” by Police.

Addressing today’s news conference, Maulana Haami sought thorough investigation into the attack on Jalal-ud-din and demanded that the assailants be unmasked and produced in the “peoples’ court”. He said that Police and the militant outfits should investigate the attack on the pattern of the assassination of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadith chief Maulana Shaukat Shah and punish the culprits. Haami alleged that certain forces were at work to create the culture of devastation and killings on sectarian basis. He asked the intelligentsia to get together and defeat such elements with complete unity.

Later, the organizers led a rally from the shrine of Sheikh Dawood Batmaloo Sahab. The participants chanted purely religious slogans and avoided reference to Kashmir’s separatist political movement and those dying for “freedom”. Religious processions organized by separatist religious leaders, like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Aga Syed Hassan of Budgam do invariably pay tributes to the “martyrs” and call for Kashmir’s “freedom from India”.


Friday, March 23, 2012

One killed, 17 injured in highway car blast at Bijbehara

Police station, 100 shops damaged; 3 CRPF men among injured

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Mar 22: Twenty-five-year-old driver of a Maruti car was blown into pieces when a powerful bomb blast occurred in his vehicle, close to Police Station at the highway township of Bijbehara, in south Kashmir, today. SSP Awantipora maintained that the deceased was an overground worker (OWG) of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, who died while targeting an Army convoy, but SSP Anantnag described him as a “civilian with no adverse history”. Seventeen persons, including three personnel of a CRPF road opening party (ROP), sustained injuries in the same explosion that also caused extensive damage to the police station and over a hundred shops.

Informed sources said that an extremely powerful car blast occurred on Srinagar-Jammu national highway, close to Police Station, in a crowded market at Bijbehara, about 45 Km from Srinagar, in the afternoon today. Driver of the ill-fated Maruti car died as he was blown into pieces and 17 others sustained injuries. This kind of a deafening explosion happened on the highway after years of peace and tranquility in Kashmir.

SSP Anantnag, Ramesh Kumar Jalla, told Early Times over telephone that the blast inside the Maruti-800 occurred at 3.32 p.m, minutes before the daily convoy of Army from Jammu to Srinagar, was to have passed through Bijbehara. He said that the slowly moving car from Anantnag to Srinagar blasted with a deafening explosion, just 20 to 25 yards short of Police Station of Bijbehara. Mangled remains of the car, alongwith pieces of the organs of the driver, were found littered in a radius of 50 yards. He said for about two hours, Police and civilians failed to understand anything about the make of the vehicle and the people killed in the blast as parts of both were beyond any recognition.

Later, Police recovered a cellphone, one ATM card of Jammu & Kashmir Bank Ltd and a voter’s photo-identity card issued by Election Commission of India. It described the holder as Mohammad Abbas Dar S/o Mohammad Amin Dar R/o Gadikhal, Chursoo, Awantipore. A Police party rushed to the village in Pulwama district and found the identity was real. According to SSP Anantnag, one of the brothers of the deceased, as also his cousin working in JAKLI of Army, identified him as Mohammad Abbas Dar of Gadikhal village.

Parts of the dead body were collected and handed over to members of Dar’s family who mourned his death and later conducted his funeral at Gadikhal, Awantipore. Police learned from residents that the deceased was a 25-year-old civilian who had completed his Bachelor of Arts from Government Degree College, Tral, and was trying to get admission in a post-graduation course at Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipore.

Later, Early Times learned from informed sources that father of the deceased, namely Mohammad Amin Dar was working as a Supervisor in Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) department, his elder brother Mohammad Shafi Dar was working with Home Guard wing of J&K Police, another brother Javed Ahmad Dar was owner-cum-driver of a Tata-Sumo taxi and the third brother, Yousuf Dar, was a truck driver. Youngest of the siblings was a married woman and their mother was a housewife.

SSP Anantnag said that the blast caused extensive damage to the nearby Police Station besides over a hundred shops on either side of the road. At least six vehicles, parked as well as those in movement, were also damaged. He said that 17 persons, including three ROP personnel of CRPF 90 Bn, sustained injuries. The injured were quickly evacuated and rushed to different hospitals for medical treatment. SSP Jalla, as well as Medical Superintendent of SKIMS, Soura, Dr Syed Amin Tabish, maintained that out the ten persons admitted to SKIMS, only one was critical. He was identified as Arif Hussain Waza S/o Abdul Rashid Waza R/o Bijbehara.

Late tonight, Dr Tabish said that Arif successfully underwent a surgical procedure and he had now good prospects of recovery. He said that five persons were still under treatment and observation and four others had been discharged in the evening. SSP Jalla denied agency reports that the death toll had reached two. He asserted that the deceased was a civilian who, according to Police records and residents, had no history of involvement with militancy, counter-insurgency or politics. He said that Police had registered the matter and started investigation into the circumstances that led to the blast.

“We are further checking antecedents of the deceased and working on different theories”, SSP Jalla said. According to him, eyewitnesses revealed that the ill-fated Maruti car came from the main market and it slowed down to speed of about 5 km/hour, some 30 to 40 yards short of the Police Station. Suddenly, there was an extremely powerful blast, killing the driver. He said that the car seemed to be a stolen one as its chassis plate was found removed and the engine number obliterated and embossed afresh. Part of a number plate read “JK02V”.

Lashkar OGW?
SP Awantipore, Mohammad Irshad, however, claimed that the deceased, Mohammad Abbas Dar, had functioned as an OWG with Lashkar-e-Tayyiba militant outfit for several years and, according to him, he had figured among the wanted suspects even in the current year.

“We have reasons to believe that Abbas Dar got killed while attempting to plant his IED-laden car to target the incoming Army convoy on the highway”, SP Awantipore told Early Times. Quoting Police records, SP Awantipore said that Abbas had closely worked as OGW with two militants, namely Altaf and Mudassar alias Doctor, both members of lashkar and residents of Gadikhal village. While as Altaf got killed in an encounter with security forces at Andrus, Pulwama, in 2009, Mudassar died in another gunbattle in early 2010. Both the slain militants, as well as Abbas, according to SP Awantipore, were involved in a number of terrorist activities including a major IED blast that ripped a vehicle of Pulwama Police outside Central Jail in Srinagar few years back.

Late tonight, informed sources further revealed that Police had seized Abbas Dar’s cellphone. Call details and tower location statements indicated that he had spent a night in Srinagar and had returned to Bijbehara, via Awantipore, in the forenoon. He had switched off his cellphone somewhere near Awantipore. Three SIM cards were found to have been used in the same phone set.

“At this stage, we believe that one of these SIM cards was to have been used to cause the blast. It is possible that the driver mishandled a device or the person holding the remote device (cellphone with a SIM card), pushed a button before the car was parked”, said an official. He said, as a matter of routine, Jammu-Srinagar Army convoy daily passes through Bijbehara between 3.30 p.m and 4.30 p.m.