The February 14, 2019, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) strike on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama, which led to India retaliating with an attack on a terror camp in Balakot later that month and the subsequent dogfight between the air forces of India and Pakistan, was originally set to be carried out in the first week of February.
All the preparations were made, the explosives were procured and armed, but weather conditions forced a suspension of the convoy movements, and JeM terrorists had to wait until the next CRPF convoy passed on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.
This revelation is part of the new information that has been gleaned by sleuths from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) while interrogating Shakir Bashir Magrey, the first person to be arrested last Friday in connection with the deadly terror attack that claimed 40 lives, according to two senior officials who spoke to HT on condition of anonymity.
“The disclosures made by Shakir Magrey are important as he is the first person to be arrested who knew everything from planning to execution, including arranging the bomb, helping in fitting it and sheltering the bomber, Adeel Ahmad Dar. This also clearly shows how the Pakistan-based terror group was specifically targeting convoys. We will now be able to file a charge sheet in the Pulwama attack,” one of the officials said.
The bomber who carried out the attack, Adeel Ahmad Dar, was killed in the suicide attack, and the NIA on Tuesday arrested two other people in connection with the case — the father-daughter duo of Tariq Ahmad Shah (50) and Insha Jan (23) — who allegedly sheltered the JeM terrorists and their local contacts. They will be interrogated over the next few days, the officials cited above said.
According to the officials, Magrey has told the NIA interrogators that the attack on a convoy on Jammu-Srinagar highway was first discussed in June 2018, and its actual preparation began in October that year when, upon receiving directions from Pakistan, JeM leadership started collecting the material needed for the operation.
They added that a Pakistani terrorist, Mohammad Umar Farooq (killed in an encounter in Tralon March 29, 2019, along with IED expert Kamran), was given the responsibility to execute the attack while JeM’s area commander Mudassir Khan (killed in Pinglishon March 11, 2019) supervised the overall planning.
Out of three volunteers from the Valley who were ready to blow themselves up in the attack, 20-year-old Dar, a resident of Gundibagh village in Pulwama, was found to be most dedicated and motivated towards JeM’s ideology, Magrey told the sleuths.
Throughout January 2019, 22-year-old Magrey, a resident of Kakapora in Pulwama, monitored the convoys passing through the national highway from his small sawmill located on Lethpora bridge, just 200 metres from the blast site.
“It was decided that suicide bombing will be carried out at this spot as the highway becomes a little steep from here causing CRPF convoys to reduce their speed. February first week was decided as the time for it,” said one official aware of the details of Magrey’s interrogation.
According to Magrey, the officer added, a powerful IED with approximately 50kg of explosive — including RDX, ammonium nitrate and nitroglycerin — was readied and fitted in a Maruti Eeco car in the first week of February by Umar Farooq, Kamran, Dar and him.
Magrey was the one who modified the car for the bomb and changed its number plates. The explosive material was arranged by JeM leaders from Pakistan, while gloves, battery and ammonium powder were ordered off the internet.
“He says they were waiting for convoys to pass. However, the weather in February was very bad and CRPF cancelled its convoy movement,” said a second officer aware of the matter.
The first convoy to pass that month was on February 14. Magrey saw the road opening party (ROP) that was being deployed to assist the convoy and they decided to carry out the attack.
Magrey drove the car till 500-600 metres of the attack site before handing it over to Dar. “Magrey has disclosed the IED was connected with the electrical system of the car and trigger button was put in Adil Dar’s hand. He (Adil) was asked to first ram the car in CRPF bus and then press the button, which he did,” said the second officer.
The suicide bomber, Dar, entered the national highway though a by-lane near Latoo Mode, smashing the explosive laden car into the fifth bus among 78 vehicles in the CRPF convoy.
The NIA officials said it appears Magrey didn’t leave Pulwama after the attack, and continued to work normally in his sawmill. They did not disclose how he was eventually apprehended.
One of the officials said the case was cracked by a team led by IG Anil Shukla. “The agency worked on technical details of all suspects for over a year. Enough forensic evidence has been gathered,” the officer added.
The father-daughter duo that NIA arrested on Tuesday allegedly harboured the Pulwama attackers, including Dar, Pakistani terrorists Umar Farooq and Kamran, and two others, JeM member Sameer Ahmed Dar and Pakistani national Mohammad Ismail.
Their house in Hakripora village in Pulwama was also used for preparing the final video recording by Dar before the Fidayeen attack, the NIA said in a statement, adding that Jan provided food and other logistics to the terrorists, who stayed for two to four days on several occasions between 2018 and 2019.