by Insha Shirazi
SRINAGAR: A massive operation to track down militants involved in a deadly attack on an army truck in Poonch district has entered its fifth day, with around 50 people, including 14 over ground workers, detained for questioning so far. The attack on Thursday killed five Army personnel, with one soldier seriously injured after their vehicle caught fire.
The operation is focused on Bhata Dhurian-Tota Gali and neighbouring areas, with Special Forces and the National Security Guard engaged in searching the dense forest areas. Drones, sniffer dogs, and metal detectors are being used to aid the search, and natural cave hideouts in the area are also being checked, as are areas where improvised explosive devices (IEDs) may have been planted.
Two groups of seven to eight militants are believed to have carried out the attack, with militants reportedly hiding in a culvert on the road stretch before attacking the vehicle. Over 50 bullet marks have been found on the vehicle, demonstrating the intensity of the firing by militants. The army truck was carrying fruits, vegetables, and other items from the Bhimber Gali camp to Sangiote village for Iftar celebration when the attack occurred.
The slain soldiers were from a Rashtriya Rifles unit deployed for counter-militancy operations. The Bhimber Gali-Poonch road, closed for traffic following the attack, was reopened on Sunday, and experts from various agencies, including the National Security Guard and the National Investigation Agency, have visited the site to investigate the incident.
Army’s Northern Commander, Upendra Dwivedi, while speaking to The Tribune has confirmed that necessary action to apprehend the militants responsible for the attack is ongoing.
The Tribune reports that the agencies have narrowed their focus on two militant handlers based in Pakistan who are suspected of being responsible for the ambush.
As per The Tribune, The two militant handlers, Rafiq Nai (also known as Sultan) and Habibullah Malik (also known as Sajid Jutt), are believed to have played a key role in the attack. Both men were designated as militants by the Indian government last year. Habibullah’s name had previously come up in connection with a 2021 attack in the same forested area of Bhata Dhurian. During that encounter, which lasted over two weeks, nine soldiers were killed.
Habibullah, who was born in 1982 in Kasur, Pakistan, is associated with Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and its offshoot, The Resistance Front (TRF). According to a notification by the Union Home Ministry, he has been involved in radicalizing and recruiting Kashmiri youths into militancy through his network. He is also suspected of involvement in drone-dropping of arms and communication systems in Jammu region for J&K-based militants, as well as behind the infiltration of militants through the Line of Control in Poonch, particularly Bhimber Gali. Habibullah was also responsible for a fidayeen attack on soldiers at Hyderpora, Srinagar, in June 2013, and the killing of the then SHO of Chadoora, Budgam, in December 2013.
Rafiq, on the other hand, is the “launching commander” of Tahreek-ul-Mujahideen and Jammu Kashmir Ghaznavi Force. He is involved in supervising narcotics and weapon smuggling and the infiltration of militants in the Poonch and Rajouri sectors.
Despite the fact that the militants responsible for the Poonch attack have fled the scene, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Intelligence Bureau (IB), police, and other agencies have been working to identify those behind the attack. The Indian government has designated both Rafiq and Habibullah as militants, and their alleged involvement in the recent attack underscores the ongoing threat posed by militants operating from across the border in Pakistan.
Quoting officials on Monday, The Tribune reported that more than 40 people have been detained for questioning in connection with the Poonch militant attack. The cordon-and-search operation (CASO) has been intensified in Bhata Dhurian-Tota Gali and nearby areas with the induction of additional troops.
They added that the militants are believed to have hidden in a culvert on a stretch of the Bhimber Gali-Poonch road before attacking the truck. More than 50 bullet marks were found on the armoured vehicle. During the search operation, troops discovered natural cave hideouts that may have been used by the militants in the past. The troops are also looking for any improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that the militants may have planted in the dense forested areas.