Indian Air Force (IAF) bases in Awantipora and the Srinagar airport have been put on maximum alert after the security and intelligence agencies in New Delhi learned about militants’ plan to strike in a big way on 23 May (17th of Ramzan) to commemorate the historic Battle of Badr with revenge of the ‘custodial killing’ of a private schoolteacher Rizwan Assad Pandit.
Twenty-nine-year-old Rizwan, with post-graduation in chemistry, was found dead in police custody two days after he had been picked up by the Special Operations Group of the Jammu and Kashmir Police from his home in Awantipora on 17 March.
Highly placed authoritative sources revealed to The Quint that the Central security and intelligence agencies had intercepted several encrypted communications indicating possibility of some terror attacks in the Valley on 23 May (17th Ramzan) that marks the anniversary of the Battle of Badr. The battle was fought during Prophet Mohammad’s lifetime in Hejaz area of Saudi Arabia in 624 CE.
The security and intelligence agencies, according to sources, have learned from the intercepted communications that Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) in coordination with Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) were planning a slew of terror strikes, mainly to take revenge of Rizwan’s ‘custodial killing’.
Militants’ Secret Meeting
The agencies have learned that a group of four militants – HM’s Kashmir chief Riyaz Naikoo, JeM’s local militant Zahid Manzoor and an unidentified Pakistani terrorist and LeT’s Riyaz Dar – held a secret meeting in Agriculture Department’s farms at Malangpora (between Awantipora and Kuil airfield) on 14 May. They discussed a plan of major strikes on certain targets on 23 May (17th of Ramzan) coinciding with the Battle of Badr.
It was decided in the meeting that in order to take revenge of Rizwan’s ‘custodial killing’, attacks would be executed on certain key targets including some on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. A major terror strike on District Police Office Awantipora was also discussed.
Sources said that Srinagar airport and the IAF airfield at Kuil Awantipora were also the terrorists’ prime targets after the 26 February IAF strikes on a JeM camp in Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Pakistan.
The IAF strikes were in retaliation of the JeM fidayeen attack on a paramilitary convoy which left over 40 CRPF men dead at Lethapora, close to Awantipora, on 14 February this year. Police suspected Rizwan’s involvement in the planning and execution of the unprecedented suicide strike.
Superintendent of Police, incharge Anti-hijacking at Srinagar Airport, Harmeet Singh, claimed that there was only the routine checking and frisking drill in place at the airport. He maintained that he was not aware about the fresh threat perception, if any, to the IAF base situated at a distance from the terminal building of civil airport. None of the authorised officers was available for comment in Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, Airports Authority of India or IAF.
Magisterial Inquiry in Rizwan’s Death Underway
According to the police, the son of a retired government employee and a prominent Jamaat-e-Islami activist, Rizwan had been detained for questioning over his alleged involvement in a terror attack at Pantha Chowk on the outskirts of the summer capital of Srinagar.
The FIR filed after his death claims that Rizwan died when he jumped out of a moving police vehicle and attempted to escape in Khrew area. His family and residents, followed by most of the Valley-based political and separatist parties, have described his death as “cold-blooded murder.”
Parallel to the FIR, government has ordered magisterial inquiry under Section 376 Criminal Procedure Code.
Additional Deputy Commissioner of Pulwama had been granted four-week time to submit his report. However, on his request, government has granted the magistrate another four weeks to complete the inquiry.
Police have not issued any statement over and above the FIR. However, knowledgeable sources say that the police had received vital inputs suggesting Rizwan’s hand in acquisition and transportation of chemicals and explosive material from Dehradun to Awantipora and fabrication of the IEDs fitted in a car. His family have strongly refuted all such reports and claimed that he was in no way linked to militancy.
Past Attacks on Kashmir Airports
The first, and till date the last, terror attack on Srinagar airport had been carried out by LeT on 16 January 2001. It failed to cause any significant damage as all the six terrorists were eliminated by security forces at the first entry point in a three-hour-long gunfight. Three CRPF personnel and two civilians were also killed in the operation. Terrorists had managed to reach the first entry point and X-Ray room in a hijacked vehicle of J&K State Forest Corporation.
On 3 October 2017, JeM terrorists sneaked into a camp of BSF 182 Battalion on the Friends Enclave corner of Srinagar airport but failed to cause much damage as all three of them were killed in the pre-dawn encounter. One Assistant Sub Inspector of BSF got killed and four personnel sustained injuries during the gunfight.
On 16 August 2014, unidentified terrorists attacked men of BSF’s 165 and 92 battalions while they were changing shift at the entrance of Kuil, Awantipora airfield. Two BSF personnel, including one ASI, got killed but all the terrorists managed to escape.
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