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‘Recorded phone call on adverse number helped cracking case’
Officials had no idea that attack on yatra bus last year was deliberate
SRINAGAR, Feb 6: While a charge sheet was last week filed against 11 persons in a case pertaining to an attack on Amaranth pilgrims at Botengoo in Anantnag last year, the officials say they had initially no idea that the attack on the bus of yatris was deliberate.

This may be also because of the reason that no attack was carried out on the yatra for 15 years. From common people to separatists and mainstream parties, everybody have been strongly advocating smooth and peaceful conduct of the pilgrimage in accordance with the decades old tradition of Kashmir. Even the attack and subsequent killing of seven pilgrims including five women was received with shock and condemnation from cross section of people here.

On the day of attack on July 10, a top police officer in Srinagar had old media that the attack was on SOG and not on the pilgrims, who were moving in a bus, without any security cover. Later, a police spokesman in a statement said, “Today evening militants initially attacked a police bullet proof vehicle at Botengoo. The fire was retaliated. There was no report of injuries. Thereafter the militants fired on a police naka near Khanabal. The fire was retaliated. A tourist bus was hit by bullets in which about 18 tourists were injured. Among them six person died while rest are being treated. The bus was on way to Jammu from Baltal and was not part of the convoy.”

The incident had occurred at 8.20 PM. “Militants attacked an armoured vehicle of police when the police fired back, the militants fled, firing indiscriminately. In the firing by militants, seven people were killed, and another seven injured,” an official had said.

According to reports at that time, the yatri bus was returning from Sonamarg. The pilgrims were on their way back after visiting the Amarnath shrine. The police at that time claimed the bus driver had violated rules for the pilgrimage, which state that no yatra vehicle should be on a highway after 7.00 PM. The bus, which was from Gujarat, was reportedly not part of the main yatra convoy and was not registered with the shrine board, or the CRPF. The main yatra convoy is escorted by the CRPF.

However, police now says that things behind the attack started getting clear during investigations, 10 days after the attack. They added that in the beginning they believed that the attack on yatra bus was not deliberate but subsequent investigation proved that it was a well planned attack. According to cops, a phone conversation, involving an “adverse number” a day before the attack provided the first clue during investigations. The conversation regarding the breakdown of a motorcycle was routinely recorded by police as part of its exercise to keep track of the “adverse phone number”, which was being used by Zahoor Ahmad Shaikh, of Khudwani in Kulgam. He was a driver of SRTC and was on police radar for some time.

Police said, during investigations they focused on a cellphone tower close to the attack spot. The cops said they found the “adverse number” active around the spot. “The phone records showed that Shaikh was in the area a day before the attack also. He was in constant touch with Ajaz Ahmad Wagay, a resident of Posh Kreedi Srigufwara. Wagay had called up Shaikh a day before the attack and told him that neither Bilal nor Adil had arrived, so he would return to home. Shaikh asked him to come and meet him, but Wagay told him that his motorcycle had broken down and he could not go,” said a police official.

He added that Shaikh was also in touch with the juvenile, who was part of overground activists and militants. Police were convinced that Shaikh and Wagay were involved, but were unable to understand who Bilal and Adil were. Later, the police came to know that Bilal and Adil were codes set by militants for yatri bus and CRPF vehicle. So when Wagay spoke to Shaikh the evening before the attack, he was telling him that neither the yatri bus nor the CRPF convoy had passed Bijbehara. Wagay was at Bijbehara during his phone conversation with Shaikh, police said.

Police said after the attack, Shaikh, Wagay, the juvenile and Bilal Reshi switched off their phones. This was another important clue because these phones had never been switched off before. Police was able to find a group of seven local overground workers who had formed a ring to help four militants. Police said among the four militants who carried out the attack, one was a local militant, Yawar Bashir Wani of Devsar. The other militants, he said, were Abu Ismail, Maaviya and Furqan, all Pakistani nationals.

According to police, all the militants involved in the attack were later killed in different encounters. Three overground workers, Shaikh, Wagay and Bilal Reshi), who helped the militants are in judicial custody. The juvenile was released on bail. Three of the accused are still absconding, police said.

It may be recalled here that militants in their statements to local news agencies had denied their involvement in the attack. They and also the separatist groups had blamed the government agencies for the attack “to defame the people of Kashmir and the ongoing movement.”

News Updated at : Wednesday, February 7, 2018
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