Is Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar the new face of terror in Kashmir?
The biggest question during the festive season in India is whether the threat perception is higher than usual.
- Total Shares
The recent surgical strike on Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK)-based militants may have avenged Uri, but by no means has affected the pattern of terrorists attacking the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.
Since the Uri attack, around 15 incidents of cross-border terror and ceasefire violation have taken place - including six terror bids since September 28.
The biggest question during the festive season in India is whether the threat perception is higher than usual. Big cities, important establishments and airports have been put on high alert. The truth is, only few days after a cross-LoC surgical strike operation by Indian military commandoes, India in general and Jammu and Kashmir in particular is no more safer. If anything, the threat perception is alarming.
On October 14, militants attacked a paramilitary force convoy on the outskirts of the Srinagar city. The attack was carried out at Zakura, where militants fired at the vehicles of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), which were carrying security personnel to their camp. One jawan of the SSB was martyred and eight others injured .
The banned terrorist organisation Al-Umar Mujahideen claimed the responsibility for the assault and warned of similar attacks in the near future. Although terrorist Mushtaq Zargar's name is well-known, that he has resurfaced can be seen as a grave potential threat for India.
49-year-old Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar is the commander-in-chief of Al-Umar Mujahideen. Until a few years ago, the Kashmiri militant commander till operated from PoK's Muzaffarabad.
Al-Umar Mujahideen had around 500 militants when the Kashmiri insurgency was at its peak in the 1990s. Zargar grew up in the Nowhatta area of Srinagar in Kashmir Valley, and was motivated to take up arms in 1984 by joining the terror outfit Jammu and Kashmir Al-Umar Mujahideen (HUM), when he was arrested for the first time.After Zargar returned to India in 1989, when one of his suggestions was not accepted by his seniors in HUM, he formed a group to annex the terror outfit.
He crossed the LoC in 1988, and later rose to lead Al-Umar after breaking away from pro-azaadi Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in 1990. Al-Umar’s key men were killed in gunfights and Zargar was arrested from his hideout on May 15, 1992. He has been named in several murder and money laundering cases.
Mustaq Zargar’s importance can be measured from the fact that four high-profile kidnappings were carried out in a bid to negotiate his release. He remained in jail until the hijackers of Indian Airlines Flight 814 secured his release in 1999 in exchange for 150-odd hostages on board the flight. Other high-profile terrorists freed following the hijacking included Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh (who was later convicted for murdering The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan). Zargar has since maintained a low profile.
• On August 12, 1989, Zargar carried out kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of the then newly appointed home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. He demanded the release of five of their comrades in exchange for Rubaiya’s release. The government accepted their demands and freed the terrorists.
• At least three dozen murder cases were registered against Zargar in Srinagar, including some of high-ranking Indian officers.
• Immediately after his release in December 1999, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar renewed the activity of Al-Umar Mujahideen in Muzaffarabad, recruiting and training young Muslims for the guerilla war in Indian Kashmir.
• With the help of Zahoor Sheikh, an Anantnag-based activist of the secessionist People's League, Zargar crossed over to Pakistan through Trehgam and received training at a camp organised by the JKLF in August 1988. Subsequently, he went to Pakistan for a second round of training during May 1989 and returned through Uri. Later, Zargar is reported to have executed several attacks on security force personnel and a series of murders of the Kashmiri Pandits.
• The Al Umar Mujahideen is a proscribed organisation under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002.Zargar was reportedly arrested by Pakistani authorities in 2002.
Headquarters and areas of operation:
The AuM headquarters is located in Muzaffarabad's Narul. It is primarily active in the Srinagar, Baramulla, Kupwara and Pulwama districts of Jammu and Kashmir.
• The outfit has, since inception, been funded and supported by Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). It also secures substantial assistance from the PoK government based in Muzaffarabad.
• It is one of the members of the Muzaffarabad-based United Jehad Council (UJC), a 15-member conglomerate of Pakistan-based terrorist groups.
• The AuM had also forged links with the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) and supplied arms to them during the insurgency in Punjab.
• During the year 2002, some of the AuM cadres reportedly joined the Lashkar-e-Omar, which is a conglomerate of Harkat-ul-Jehadi-e-Islami (HuJI), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) cadres.