Photos, chats and a phone: How NIA cracked the Pulwama case
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) hit an obstacle in the Pulwama terror attack probe for the initial 10 months in piecing together the sequence of events since key players such as Masood Azhar’s nephew Mohammad Umar Farooq, and Pakistani terrorists Kamran Ali and Qari Yasir were killed in encounters by the security forces.
Even though Farooq, the key figure in the attack, was killed on March 29, 2019, his mobile phone was lying with the Jammu and Kashmir Police for several months.
In December 2019, the first ray of hope came for the agency, which took over the probe immediately after the attack, with the retrieval of numerous photos, videos and conversations from Farooq’s mobile phone; he clicked several photos of his journey from Pakistan to India through the border, his accomplices, and the bomb-making process, according to an official who requested anonymity.
Also, his conversations on WhatsApp and other chat platforms with the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) leadership, primarily his uncles Abdul Rouf Asghar and Ammar Alvi in Pakistan, and other operatives from the Valley — were found around this time. Soon, the probe team, led by inspector general Anil Shukla, deputy inspector general Sonia Narang and superintendent of police Rakesh Balwal, found a picture of a Kashmiri youth, Shakir Bashir Magray, in Farooq’s phone.
Magray (24) was identified as a resident of Kakapora in Pulwama.
This was when NIA realised that it could have hit a jackpot.
Magray, who ran sawmill near the blast site from where he conducted the reconnaissance of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy, was arrested on February 28 this year, the first in the case. It was found that his house was used for stocking explosives and making the bomb that would be used to attack a CRPF convoy and kill 40 security personnel.
In a chat retrieved by NIA, Farooq was found discussing around the time when Indian and Pakistani fighter jets were engaged in a dogfight towards the end of February 2019 that “there should be a war between both countries” as it will give an opportunity for hundreds of Jaish fighters to infiltrate into India.
NIA also recovered conversations that proved Farooq’s uncles in Pakistan were giving him directions to prepare for a second attack after Pulwama; the Jaish had to abort its plans in the face of growing international pressure on Pakistan.
The agency found two bank accounts of Farooq — in Pakistan’s Allied Bank Ltd and Meezan Bank, in which money for the Pulwama attack was deposited. Conversations regarding the transfers were retrieved by NIA. Selfies, photos, videos and chats recovered from Farooq’s phone helped NIA establish Pakistan’s link to the terror conspiracy.
During interrogation, Magray disclosed details of the conspiracy, including how Farooq was the one running the show and giving directions to them.
Six more persons — Insha Jan, her father Peer Tariq Ahmed Shah, Waiz-ul-Islam, Mohammad Abbas Rather, Mohammad Iqbal Rather and Bilal Ahmed Kuchhey — who played in a role in providing logistics or shelter to Pakistani terrorists, were arrested in the following months.
Jan’s house, NIA said, was used to make the propaganda video clip of the suicide bomber; the clip was released after the attack.
In its 13,500-page charge sheet filed in a special NIA court in Jammu on Tuesday, the agency named 19 people, including Azhar and Farooq, for planning and carrying out the attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy on the behest of Pakistan.
“Lot of digital, forensic, documentary and oral evidence establishing a fool-proof case for this dastardly and barbaric attack has been collected. The charge sheet has brought on record the all-out involvement of Pakistan based entities to carry out terrorist strikes in India and to incite and provoke Kashmiri youth,” said NIA deputy inspector general Narang.
The agency will soon send Letter Rogatories (LRs) — a judicial request seeking information from abroad – to Pakistan seeking information on Farooq, and the Jaish leadership.