Friday, March 25, 2016

Gujarat alert: No Pak militants killed, ATM thieves caused false alarm

Intelligence agencies and Gujarat police have dismissed purported home ministry official claims that three of 10 terrorists having infiltrated from Pakistan were killed in a western state on the basis of a March 5 tip-off by Pakistani national security adviser Naseer Janjua to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval.

Nine men initially suspected by investigators to be part of those infiltrators as they left behind suspicious articles at two Gujarat guest houses later turned out to be ATM thieves from Jharkhand. The agencies maintain that not one of the so-called 10 terrorists has either been traced or eliminated even as border states are on alert. There has been no communication intercept or physical clue of any large-scale cross-border infiltration by jihadists belonging to either the Jaish-e-Mohammed or the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

On March 5 afternoon, Janjua called up Doval to share a “disturbing input” that 10 terrorists belonging to banned outfits had crossed over to India through the Gujarat border a day or two before. The input was taken up on priority, with Doval and intelligence agency chiefs working through the night to deploy 150 NSG commandos with two Mi-17 helicopters at their disposal in Gujarat.

As there was no trace of the 10 terrorists, all iconic buildings and previously identified Lashkar-e-Taiba targets in Mumbai, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were placed on alert.

On March 15, Indian TV channels quoting a top home ministry official said three of the 10 terrorists had been eliminated somewhere in the western states. The leak giving credence to the Pakistani NSA’s input came on the eve of an Indo-Pak foreign ministers’ meeting on the sidelines of a SAARC ministerial.

Investigations conducted by Hindustan Times revealed that following a high alert being sounded in Gujarat, nine men were found to be missing from two guest houses in Bhuj, Swagat and Sagaar, on March 5 and a nationwide manhunt was launched. The men had fled the guest houses without paying the rent or providing any forwarding address.

Counter-terror operatives along with the Bhuj police broke into the rooms occupied by the nine men and found suspicious equipment such as an acetylene gas cylinder and a gas cutter. Fearing the worst, the agencies under instructions from Delhi traced the whereabouts of these men through an identity card and mobile numbers.

The men were identified as Nadeem Naseem Siddiqi, Jayalu Majid Sheikh, Jamil Akhtar, Anarul Imtiaz Sheikh, Shahnawaz M Ansari, Mohammad Minarul Sheikh and Kabir Jadir Sheikh. Hailing from Pakur district in Jharkhand, all of them were absconders.

“A team of Kutch police visited Pakur district and investigations have so far revealed that they were ATM thieves. Their modus operandi was to hijack the entire ATM machine and then use a gas cutter to recover money,” Gujarat border range inspector general AK Jadeja told Hindustan Times on Wednesday.

Jadeja said following confirmation of their identities by Jharkhand police, prima facie it was ruled out that they were the suspected 10 militants who had entered Gujarat to carry out a 26/11-like attack. Bhuj police said all nine were also arrested by Arnala police of Palgarh district in September 2015 in connection with ATM theft.

“One group had arrived in Bhuj on February 29 and another on March 3. They also had been to tourist places like Mandvi beach and had done camel riding for recreation. We are doing investigation if they were involved in any of the ATM thefts reported in the state,” police said.

While the border states continue to be on alert on the basis of Janjua’s input, intelligence agencies believe that in case a terror attack were to happen, the Pakistani government could deny its complicity and cite the fact that it had already alerted Indian authorities.