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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hizb chief Salahuddin’s son among 160 rescued by Police, CRPF at EDI complex

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Feb 24: Son of Pakistan-based United Jihad Council and the formidable militant organisation Hizbul Mujahideen’s chief Syed Salahuddin was among the 160 employees and trainees who were rescued by men of Jammu and Kashmir Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) at the beginning of the fidayeen attack at Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) on Srinagar outskirts on last Saturday.

Syed Mueed Yousuf, who has been appointed as Manager Information Technology by EDI, after his post-graduation in the subject a few years back, was offering his late afternoon (asr) prayers on the first floor of the imposing 5-storey EDI complex when three heavily armed Lashkar-e-Tayyiba militants attacked a CRPF convoy, killing two personnel, and trooped into the government building. Syed broke off his prayers and, like other colleagues---17 men and 5 women---rushed down to the ground floor.

Brandishing their assault rifles, the militants directed all the 23 EDI employees to quickly drop their mobile phones and move out while keeping their arms up so that they were not mistaken as militants and fired upon by ‘fauj’ (Army). “Niklo jaldi, niklo jaldi, fauj aarahi hai. Encounter start hone wala hai. Hamein aap logoon ke saath kuch nahi hai. Hamari jung fauj ke saath hai” (Move out quickly. Army is coming in. Encounter is about to begin. We have got nothing to do with you people. We will be fighting the army), the militants in their mid-20s shouted on the hysterical employees.

All of them jumped out from the rear side and walked to the eight-storey hostel building. In the next few minutes, J&K Police and CRPF stormed the complex and launched the rescue operation.

Militants did not open fire until the CRPF bulletproof vehicles reached the hostel entrance. Syed was among the first few who were asked to board an armoured vehicle. He and others, however, let some junior officials take the first turn. Perched on a vantage position in the canteen, on the attic of the main EDI complex, the militants fired a volley of AK-47 fire that left four CRPF men and the EDI gardener Abdul Gani Mir injured.

Thereafter Syed and others rushed quickly into another bulletproof vehicle. They attempted to rescue an injured Mir in the same vehicle but failed. Thereafter, Mir was rescued in a bulletproof Gypsy of J&K Police. Due to excessive loss of blood he later succumbed to injuries at the hospital.

IGP Kashmir Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gilani told STATE TIMES: “Yes Salahuddin’s son works there as an engineer. He was among the people we evacuated before launching our operation”.

Director EDI Mohammad Ismail Parray too confirmed that Syed Mueed was among the 160-odd employees and trainees evacuated from the complex. He said that some employees had left minutes before the fidayeen attack occurred at 4.15 pm but 23 of them were still in the main building.

Around 130 trainees and seven employees were in the hostel building.

“Had it happened earlier, everybody of them would have got trapped in the main building. We are deeply shocked over the death of our gardener and the damage caused to the main building as we are all emotionally attached to it. But we will restore it to a better glory”, Dr Parray, who has raised the Centrally-funded Rs 37-crore buildings on the premises and made these operational.

Over the last five years, EDI has trained thousands of unemployed youth in different disciplines and helped them start and operate their own industrial and business units.

All the three Lashkar-e-Tayyiba militants, three Army men including two Captains of Special Forces, three CRPF personnel (including one who succumbed to injuries today) and a civilian died in the gunbattle.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

LeT says Pampore fidayeen attack was revenge for Shaista’s killing
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Feb 23: Claiming responsibility for the audacious attack on the security forces, that left five personnel including two Captains and a civilian dead and 13 CRPF men injured at EDI Complex, near Pampore, Pakistan-based jihadist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba on Tuesday said that the fidayeen strike was to avenge the killing of the University student Shaista Hamid.

Both around 20-year-old, Shaista Hamid and Danish Farooq were killed in the firing by Police and security forces during the course of an operation in which LeT militant Adil Ahmad Shergujri alias Abu Bakar was also killed in Lelhar village of Pulwama district on February 15. While as Shaista was M Ed student with IGNOU, Danish was a regular engineering student with Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora. They had got killed when demonstrators clashed with Police and security forces and disrupted their operation that reportedly helped two holed up militants to escape.

LeT spokesman Dr Abdullah Gaznavi said in the statement that Captain Pawan Kumar had shot dead Shaista and Danish at Lelhar. “Captain Pawan Kumar’s death is the revenge for the death of Shaista. Militants have taken the revenge and done their job”, he said.

Defence sources admitted that Captain Pawan Kumar had participated in the counter-terrorist operation at Lelhar and sustained injury but insisted that Army had not fired upon the demonstrators. They said that Police and CRPF tackled with the law and order problem in the village while as Army dealt with the holed up militants.

LeT spokesman said that Chief of LeT Mehmood Shah paid tributes to the three militants killed in the fidayeen attack. According to him, the militants and the residents of Pampore area were “on one page” in fighting the Indian security forces that was evident from the demonstrations Sunday through Tuesday. He condemned the use of pellet guns against the civilian demonstrators by the security forces.

Even as all the three LeT militants died in the three-day-long gunfight, they left five security forces personnel, including Captain Pawan Kumar and Captain Tushar of Special Forces, dead and 13 CRPF personnel, including as assistant commandant, injured. One civilian, namely Abdul Gani Mir, who was a temporarily engaged gardener with EDI, also died in the encounter.


[Published in today’s STATE TIMES]

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

EDI gunfight ends with death of 3 LeT militants

Bodies buried in Uri amid mounting tension in Pulwama district

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU, Feb 22: The 48-hour-long gunbattle between militants and security forces concluded with the death of three unidentified militants at headquarters of the State-run Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) at Sempora Pampore, bordering Srinagar and Pulwama district, on Srinagar-Jammu national highway, on Monday.

Two CRPF men and a civilian had died in the attack on Saturday and three of Special Force personnel, including 2 young captains, died on Sunday. Thirteen CRPF personnel have sustained injuries.

On the third day of the encounter, Security forces and Police maintained a sustained assault on the three militants holed up on the 4th storey and attic of the EDI complex. For most of the time, they remained hidden in the concrete-walled elevator machine room in the attic and the firing from security forces did not cause them any considerable damage until the commandos advanced with the room-to-room search and got them cornered above the 4th storey.

Sources associated with the operation told STATE TIMES that all three of the militants were killed in the final assault around 4.30 pm. Their bodies, along with three AK-47 rifles, and a quantity of other arms and ammunition, were recovered and subsequently despatched to Uri for burial in apprehension of the trouble mounting towards the conclusion of the operation in the vast Pampore belt.

After the authorities learned that the sympathisers and overground supporters of the militants were mobilising people with playing of Pakistani and militant epic songs on the public address system of the village mosques, curfew was imposed in maximum of Pulwama district and parts of Srinagar district in Zewan-Khrew area. Still, some anti-India, pro-Pakistan and pro-Azadi demonstrations took place in Pampore, Sempora and some other villages.

Reports said that over a dozen demonstrators and at least four Policemen sustained injuries in the clashes. According to these reports, attempts were made to arrange a massive demonstration outside EDI so as to disrupt the Army operation and facilitate the militants’ escape. Police and CRPF foiled such attempts.

Director General of Police, K Rajendra Kumar, told STATE TIMES that efforts to identify the slain militants failed as nobody recognised them by their pictures and outfits. “Since no individual, no family in the Valley claimed the bodies, we have reasons to believe that all three of them were foreign terrorists, most probably Pakistani nationals”, DGP said. He said that it appeared to be “a well-recceed and well-planned fidayeen attack as the militants had attacked the CRPF convoy on Saturday well on the national highway and thereafter taken shelter in the huge EDI complex wherefrom they could have held a vantage position, kept the forces engaged in a longer gunfight and caused maximum possible damage”.

“It was a completely exposed spot and there was no chance of escaping. Done at Sempora crossing, where two LeT militants died in an encounter on December 8 last year, all the three militants could have escaped. Their selection of EDI spot makes it clear that that they had no intention of going back”, DGP said. According to him, this group of LeT militants had possibly infiltrated into Kashmir in the month of November or December last year.

Asked if any technical evidence had been seized to ascertain the militants’ original place, route of infiltration, movement in the Valley and their contacts, DGP said that the search operation would take another 24 hours to finish. Earlier head of Army’s Victor Force, Maj Gen Arvind Dutta, maintained that the slain militants were Pakistani nationals and members of their outfit’s suicide squad.

Chairman of Pakistan-based militant conglomerate United Jihad Council and ‘Supreme Commander’ of Hizbul Mujahideen Syed Salahuddin praised the militants for giving “a tough fight” to the Indian forces. In a statement, he also appreciated the support of the local people to the militants. UJC announced a top ‘gallantry award’ for the slain militants.

It was the first major fidayeen strike in Kashmir after the militants attacked a Police installation in Sheeri area of Baramulla during the Assembly elections in October-November 2014. Last year, militants attempted a fidayeen strike on a military installation at Tanghdar in Kupwara district but they were gunned down before entering the main encampment.

[Published in today’s STATE TIMES]

Monday, February 22, 2016

EDI gunfight toll reaches 6 including two captains

Part of building damaged in fire but no militant killed in 32 hours of ongoing encounter

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Feb 21: Even as Army lost three Special Forces soldiers, including two young captains, following the fatal casualty of two CRPF men and a civilian in the initial strike, the fierce encounter between a group of the holed up militants and security forces was going on till midnight on Sunday at the State-run Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI), near Sempora Pampore, on the outskirts of Srinagar, on Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

Thirteen CRPF personnel, including an Assistant Commandant, had also sustained injuries in the beginning of the encounter on Saturday.

A senior officer of Jammu and Kashmir Police, who supervised the operation at EDI Complex along with senior Army and CRPF officers since it started on Saturday, told STATE TIMES that none of the holed up militants “seemed to be dead” in the 32 hours of the gunfight. “Until now, no militant’s body has been spotted or recovered. We have cleared around 90% of the building and zeroed in on the holed up militants in the remaining 10% of the space on the last floor. We are in the thick of the final assault and sure that all of them will be eliminated. They have no chance to escape”, he said.

The officer said that a portion of the building caught fire during the encounter as the militants fired from AK-47 rifles and lobbed around 20 hand grenades. However, it was extinguished successfully in three or four hours. Special Forces (paratroopers) flown in from Kupwara led the operation while as Police and CRPF provided back up support.

As exclusively reported in Sunday’s issue of STATE TIMES, Special Forces commandos had stormed the EDI headquarters at around midnight on Saturday. In the wee hours on Sunday, Captain Pawan Kumar (23), who was a resident of Jind, Haryana, got critically injured. Later, he succumbed to injuries at Army’s 92 Base Hospital in Srinagar. Lance Naik Om Prakash (32) of Shimla and Captain Tushar Mahajan (26) of Adarsh Colony Udhampur died in the encounter on Sunday. Officials said that their bodies would be despatched to their respective residential places after the wreath-laying ceremony at headquarters of 15 Corps in Srinagar on Monday.

Sources associated with the operation said that the militants, believed to be three to four in number, did not fire or retaliate after 9.10 pm on Sunday. It was an indication that they had decided to prolong the fighting as much as possible. “They can be exhausted or even dead but we have, as of now, no means to ascertain that”, said an officer. He said that the forces also used an unmanned aerial vehicle for flying close to the roof the building and taking pictures of its interior. But, there was little success as the militants fired on the flying machine from some pigeon holes.

According to these sources, a computer laboratory on the left portion of the top floor gutted in the fire even as a state-of-the-art conference hall on the right portion was intact till midnight. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and former Union Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Jairam Ramesh had attended a number of conferences and meetings in the hall which also remained venue for review meetings of District Development Board Pulwama. The EDI complex, falling in Pulwama district, is situated exactly on the border of Srinagar and Pulwama districts.

On December 8, 2015, two LeT militants had died at Sempora Crossing, just 200 yards short of EDI complex, in an encounter with Police and security forces during the checking of vehicles.

Sources said that the holed up militants, who include at least one Kashmiri speaking youth, possibly from Pulwama district, made some calls from the cellphones they seized from six EDI employees. A number of telephones are understood to have been put on surveillance to learn about the militants’ contacts and their whereabouts. The employees who spoke to media claimed that the militants asked them to clear out the building before the troops would start firing. They said that Police and CRPF evacuated them successfully even as one civilian, Abdul Gani Mir, who was a temporarily engaged gardener with EDI, died when militants fired from the canteen in the attic.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Civilian, 2 CRPF men killed in fidayeen attack on highway

3 to 5 LeT militants occupy EDI hqs after attack on CRPF convoy

Commandos storm 5-storey building at midnight; 160 employees, trainees rescued

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Feb 20: In the current year’s first fidayeen strike in Jammu and Kashmir, unidentified gunmen, believed to be the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba cadres, left two CRPF men dead and 13 others injured even as a civilian died in the cross-firing at headquarters of the State-run Entrepreneur Development Institute (EDI) when a paramilitary convoy on way from Jammu to Srinagar was ambushed on the highway, on outskirts of Srinagar in Kashmir valley, on Saturday.

IGP Kashmir, Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gilani told STATE TIMES that a group of 3 t0 4 suspected militants of LeT opened fire on a CRPF convoy, on way from Jammu to Srinagar, at 4.15 pm on the highway at EDI Complex, near Sempora Pampore, 8 km short of the summer capital. Even as the convoy guards retaliated, two CRPF men got killed and 10 more sustained injuries.

The militants, belonging to a South Kashmir-based LeT module, rushed into the main building of EDI and occupied the complex without suffering any damage. Units from SOG Awantipora and SOG Srinagar, besides Army, rushed to the spot quickly and launched the evacuation operation as more than 150 employees and trainees got trapped in the three major buildings on the premises. While the trainees and employees were being evacuated from the 8-storey hostel building and a guesthouse, militants hiding in the canteen of the main building on the 5th floor, opened fire.

Two more CRPF men and a 45-year-old EDI gardener Abdul Gani Mir of Gundpora Pulwama sustained injuries. Later, Mir succumbed to injuries at SMHS Hospital. He is survived by three daughters and wife. His brother-in-law had also met similar fate when he died in a rifle grenade attack by militants on Civil Secretariat in Srinagar over a decade back. Mir was also the guardian of the two daughters of his brother-in-law.

IGP said that the Police and security forces maintained a tight cordon around the EDI premises. “Now that we have successfully rescued all the 150-odd civilians, we are planning to launch the decisive assault to eliminate the holed up terrorists”, he said.

CRPF spokesperson Bhavnesh Kumar put the number of the injured at 13. “Two of our men died in the initial attack on the bus while as 9 personnel got injured. Subsequently, during the encounter four more of our men, including an Assistant Commandant, sustained injuries. We are now busy with the operation”, Kumar told STATE TIMES.

Director EDI Dr Mohammad Ismail Parray asserted that all the civilians, including employees and trainees, were evacuated by Police and security forces safely even as a temporarily engaged gardener got killed. He said that he was in Jammu but the employees were constantly in touch with him on telephone and they told him that none of them or the trainees was missing or holed up.

Well-placed sources revealed to STATE TIMES that the heavily armed militants, carrying AK-47 rifles and rucksacks on the back, seized cellphones of six EDI employees who included Arsalan, Wajahat and Feroz. However, they commanded all the 23 holed up employees in the main building to vacate. None of them was harassed or harmed. Two of the militants were Urdu-speaking while as one spoke Kashmiri. They were believed to be three to five in number.

All the militants rushed to the top floor and took positions in the canteen in the attic. They targeted the Police and CRPF men evacuating the civilians from the hostel building in the rear side. It was in this strike that four CRPF men and one civilian sustained injuries. The civilian later died at SMHS Hospital.

While as 23 male and female employees got trapped and were later rescued from the main building, 135 trainees were evacuated in bulletproof vehicles from the 8-storey hostel building and 2-story guesthouse. All of them, including the six whose phones were snatched away by the militants, reached their respective residences.

Supervisor at EDI, Mohammad Maqbool of Tral, told STATE TIMES that he heard a burst of AK-47 gunfire in the hostel building at 4.15 pm. “As soon as we came out, we learned that 4 to 5 militants had attacked a CRPF convoy  and rushed into the main EDI building. We were all evacuated by Police and forces”, he said.

Security forces officers associated with the operation said that they were sure that no civilian was trapped anywhere at 9.00 pm. They said that the 5-storey main building had a basement but none of the militants was believed to be hiding in it. “We are sure that all of them are in the top floor of the building which has around 25 rooms, halls, and library and computer labs.  Special force and SOG commandos are planning to storm the complex at midnight (when this story was being filed) and we are confident to eliminate all the holed up terrorists smoothly”, said an officer.

Sources said that the Government had given strict instructions to the Police and security forces to ensure that the magnificent EDI complex does not catch fire or is not damaged with IED blasts.

On December 9, 2015, two militants had died in a chance encounter with Police and security forces during checking of vehicles at Sempora Crossing, just 200 yards short of EDI complex on the highway.