IGP (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar (centre) addresses a press conference in Srinagar on Sunday. (PTI)
After a day’s silence, the J&K Police admitted on Sunday that one of its decorated officers, posted with its anti-hijacking unit at Srinagar airport, was with top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Syed Naveed Mushtaq and his associates when they were arrested from a private vehicle, at a checkpoint on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, on Saturday evening.
The police officer has been identified as Deputy Superintendent of Police Davinder Singh, who was awarded the President’s medal for gallantry last year. On Thursday, when a team of 15 foreign envoys arrived in Srinagar on a two-day visit to J&K, Singh was among those who welcomed them at the Srinagar airport.
Besides Mushtaq and Singh, there were two others in the vehicle — Rafi Rather, a resident of Batpora, Shopian, who joined militancy in July last year, and Irfan Shafi, an advocate and resident of Diaroo Shopian, who was reportedly driving the vehicle when it was stopped at Wanpoh, in Kulgam district. All the four have been arrested.
Addressing a press conference on Sunday, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar said: “There was a very big operation yesterday. SP (Shopian) had an input that an i10 (car) with two militants had left from Shopian and was heading towards Jammu-Srinagar national highway. He informed me, and I asked DIG (South Kashmir) to set up checkpoints... On searching a vehicle, we found two wanted militants. We also found a DySP and an advocate with them. They have all been arrested.”
Identifying the DySP, Kumar said: “As you know, he (Singh) is a senior police officer. He has worked on several anti-militancy operations in J&K. But the way he was caught yesterday... (with) two, three militants in a car to Jammu... that is a heinous crime. And that is why we treated him like a militant. He has been taken on remand and interrogation is going on.”
Sources said two rifles were recovered from Singh’s residence during a search after his arrest.
On Saturday, police had not named the officer. “Police, army, CRPF, IB, R&AW — all the agencies — were brought together and interrogation was carried out jointly,” said the IGP.
According to sources, when the vehicle was intercepted, DySP Singh was sitting in the front with Shafi, while the two militants were in the back seat. Police sources said DIG (South Kashmir) Atul Goel was at the checkpoint. “The DIG lost his cool when he saw the DySP. They were put in a police vehicle and taken to the Joint Interrogation Centre (JIC) in Kulgam,” said sources.
A senior police officer said they had also recovered arms and ammunition. “They didn’t attempt to flee when they were stopped by the police,” said a police officer.
According to IGP Kumar, Naveed Mushtaq was the second-in-command of the Hizbul Mujahideen’s operational chief in the Valley, Riyaz Naikoo. Earlier a police constable, he had decamped with four rifles from Budgam in 2017. “He is involved in the killings of civilians, policemen and truck-drivers. Last year, many orchards were damaged and people were threatened by him. Till today, 17 FIRs are registered against him. He was the most wanted for us. He was the Hizbul district commander of Shopian,” said Kumar.
Police sources said investigators were trying to trace the link between Naveed Mushtaq and DySP Singh. “What was their motive, where they were going — this is being investigated. According to preliminary investigations, they were on their way to Jammu. The investigations indicate that the police officer was acting as a ‘carrier’ for the militants,” said sources.