The arrest of suspected Hizbul Mujahideen militant Liyaqat Shah has drawn a sharp reaction from the Jammu and Kashmir government.
The Delhi Police have arrested a suspected Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist, Liyaqat Shah, who was allegedly deputed to plan and oversee a suicide attack in Delhi.
Questions are being raised as to whether he really is a terrorist who was planning a suicide attack in Delhi around Holi or a reformed militant who was returning home to Kashmir to surrender and start a new life.
While the Delhi Police claimed that Shah was a militant who was planning to orchestrate attacks in the city around Holi, sources in the J&K government said he was returning to the state from Pakistan via Nepal under its government's rehabilitation policy for former militants.
The Omar Abdullah government is likely to take up the matter with the home ministry, fearing that the arrest might deal a blow to its flagship programme aimed at bringing militants back into the mainstream.
"We knew about Shah's return. He is not an active militant. He was returning home with his wife and his 19-year-old daughter. Even the Intelligence Bureau knew about his return. We had told Delhi police not to take any action," said a J&K police official.
According to sources, Shah was travelling in a train from Gorakhpur. His first wife Ameena Begum said that Shah had called her a few days ago, telling her about his return on a proper visa.
She said the whereabouts of his second wife and daughter, who were with him, are not known as she had not heard from them.
Around 233 men — 117 with families — have returned to Kashmir in the past one year after chief minister Abdullah announced a rehabilitation policy for militants.
The returnees usually come home informally through Nepal and then by road to Kashmir, with the authorities going soft on the travellers.
Shah, who was arrested from UP’s Gorakhpur two days ago, was slated to come to Delhi and stay at a guest house near Jama Masjid in old Delhi.
The police claim that Shah, who is a resident of Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir, had been deputed to plan and oversee a fidayeen attack, aimed at avenging the recent hanging of Afzal Guru, around Holi.
Explosives and an AK-56 rifle were also recovered from the old Delhi guest house. The plan, police said, was to trigger blasts at popular markets such as Karol Bagh and India Gate.
Delhi Police special commissioner (special cell) SN Shrivastava said, "Shah had crossed over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in 1997 where he was trained. He has told us that senior Hizbul Mujahideen commanders Ghazi Nasruddin and Farooq Qureshi had chosen him to supervise fidayeen attackers for terror strikes in Delhi."
They had advised Shah to meet the men, who were lodged at the old Delhi guest house, he added.
His arrest has come nearly 10 days after the terror strike at a CRPF facility in Srinagar on March 13, for which Hizbul had claimed responsibility.
"Since the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and its dormant modules are on our radar after the recent Hyderabad blasts, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has reactivated Hizbul’s sleeper cells," said a Delhi Police officer.
If sources are to be believed, Shah had received training in fidayeen attacks in addition to communication and motivational skills during ‘Daura-e-Aam’ (normal training) and ‘Daura-e-Khaas’ (extended training) at Pakistan. His seniors had asked him to replicate the March 13 episode in Delhi around Holi.
"The fact that there were dry fruits along with the cache of arms and ammunition in the hotel room confirms that it was to be a fidayeen attack. They seem to have wanted to make it a prolonged one like the parliament attack of 2001," said another officer.
This is the 18th module of Hizbul to be busted in Delhi between 2001 and 2013 and 28 terrorists have been arrested so far, Shrivastava said.