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SAIR Archive            SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW          LATEST ON SATP
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 16, No. 6, August 7, 2017

Data and assessments from SAIR can be freely published in any form with credit to the South Asia Intelligence Review of the
South Asia Terrorism Portal


ASSESSMENT


INDIA
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J&K: Onslaught against Hizb-ul-Mujahideen
Nijeesh N.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

On August 3, 2017, two Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) terrorists, identified as Aaqib Ahmad Itoo and Suhail Ahmad, were killed in an encounter with Security Forces (SFs) at Gopalpora village in the Damhal Hanji Pora area of Kulgam District. Their bodies were recovered along with two AK 47 rifles.

On July 30, 2017, two HM terrorists, identified as Shariq Ahmad and Showkat Ahmed aka Shabir, were killed in an encounter with SFs in the Tahab area of Pulwama District. One Army trooper also received minor injuries in the encounter. SFs recovered an INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) and one SLR (Self-Loading Rifle) from the slain terrorist’s possession. The killings triggered protests in the area in which over one dozen demonstrators were injured.

On July 12, 2017, three HM terrorists, identified as Javid Sheikh, Dawood Ahmad Sofi and Aaquib Gul were killed in an encounter at Radbugh village in Budgam District. The gun battle had started at around 7.30 pm on July 11, after SFs launched a search operation following a tip-off about the presence of terrorists at the village. Dead bodies of the terrorists were recovered along with three assault rifles.

Three HM terrorists, identified as Jahangir Ahmad Khanday, Kifayat Ahmad Khanday, and Mohammad Akhter were killed, and four SF personnel were injured during a 30-hour long encounter in the Bahmnoo area of Pulwama District. The gun battle began in the morning of July 3 after the SFs launched a search operation following a specific tip-off about the presence of HM terrorists in the area. Two terrorists were killed on July 3 and the body of a third was found in the morning of July 4.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 126 terrorists have been killed by SFs in the current year (data till August 7, 2017). Group identities of 70 of these have been established - Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), 38; HM, 29; Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), 2; and Al Badr, 1. Thus, 41.4 per cent of the terrorists whose group identity was established belonged to HM. 

In fact, out of a total of 1,087 terrorists killed in J&K since 2010, group identities of 601 were established. These included 345 of the LeT, 186 HM, 55 JeM, seven Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HuM), and three each of Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI), Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) and Al Badr.  Thus, HM has suffered the second largest losses since 2010.

Among leadership elements, HM’s most prominent loss in recent years was the July 8, 2016, killing of its ‘operational commander' in Kashmir Burhan Muzaffar Wani who had emerged as the ‘poster boy’ for a new generation of Kashmiri terrorists. He was the main draw for many young and educated youth in South Kashmir turning to terrorists. Wani had joined terrorism in 2010, and carried a reward of INR one million on his head. After his successor Zakir Rashid Bhatt aka Musa defected from the outfit in early May 2017, Sabzar Ahmed Bhat was named the new ‘operational commander’. Bhat was killed on May 27, 2017. According to media reports, Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo, is the current ‘operational commander' of HM in Kashmir. Mohammed Yusuf Shah, aka Syed Salahuddin, remains the head of HM, and is located in Muzzafarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Further, at least 286 HM cadres have been arrested since 2010. The number of HM cadres arrested in 2017 stands at 21 as of August 7, 2017.

Headquartered at Muzaffarabad in PoK, HM once had several hundred active cadres in J&K. It now has an approximate 95 active cadres left in the State. Prominent among these are the current ‘operational commander' Riyaz Ahmad Naikoo; Altaf Dar aka Kachroo, ‘district commander’ of Kulgam; Mohd Yasin Ittoo aka Mansoor, ‘district commander’ of Badgam; and Saddam Paddar aka Zaid, ‘district commander’ of Shopian. These four are among the list of 12 ‘most wanted terrorists’, in the Kashmir Valley, reportedly released by SFs in May 2017. The others on the list were: Zakir Rashid Bhatt aka Musa; Wasim aka Osama, LeT ‘commander’ Shopian; Showkat Tak aka Huzaifa, LeT ‘district commander’, Pulwama; Abu Dujana aka Hafiz, LeT ‘divisional commander’, South Kashmir; Bashir Wani aka Lashkar, LeT ‘district commander’, Anantnag; Junaid Mattoo aka Kandroo, LeT ‘district commander’; Zeenat-ul-Islam aka Alkama, LeT (his position not known); and Abu Hamas, JeM ‘divisional commander’. Abu Dujana aka Hafiz, was killed along with another LeT terrorist, Arif Lilhaari, in an encounter in Hakripora village in Pulwama District on August 1, 2017.

Internal rifts within HM are also endemic. On May 13, 2017, Zakir Rashid Bhatt aka Musa quit HM, declaring, “Hizbul Mujahideen has said that we have nothing to do with the statement of Musa. So, if Hizbul Mujahideen doesn’t represent me then I also don’t represent them. From today onwards, I have no association with Hizbul Mujahideen.” On May 12, 2017, Musa, had stated, “We will slit the throats of resistance leaders – leaders of Hurriyat Conference – before the Kafirs (infidels) in Lal Chowk, main hub of Srinagar, if they don't refrain from turning the Kashmir issue into a political (sic) from the struggle for Islam.” Soon, after Musa’s warning, HM’s ‘spokesman’ Saleem Hashmi had issued a statement from Muzaffarabad in PoK noting that “the outfit has neither got anything to do with the statement of Musa nor the statement is acceptable to it.” Meanwhile, on July 27, 2017, Global Islamic Media Front, an online propaganda platform of al Qaeda, issued a statement announcing Zakir Musa as ‘commander’ of its new-found Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (supporters of holy war in India) for J&K. Reports suggest Musa’s group comprises of around two dozen terrorists.

Despite sustained reverses, however, the terrorist threat in the Valley persists. Operationally, HM remains one of the most important terrorist outfits, perpetrating violence across the State at regular intervals. According to SATP data, out of 39 civilians killed in terrorism-related incidents in the State in 2017, the group identities of terrorists involved was established in 25: LeT, 14 and HM, 11. HM carried out the second worst attack, in terms of fatalities among civilians in 2017, on May 6,, 2017, in the Mir Bazaar area in Kulgam District. Four persons, including two civilians, a Policeman and a HM terrorist were killed on the spot, and two injured civilians died later - one on May 7, 2017, and on May 14, 2017. In the worst attack of the year on civilians, LeT terrorists killed seven Amarnath pilgrims and injured 19 others as they struck at a bus in the Batangoo area, near Pahalgam, Anantnag District, on July 10, 2017. One of the injured civilian died later, on July 16, 2017.

Terrorists have also killed 43 SFs in 2017, with group identities of the terrorists involved established in 30 of these killings: HM, 14; LeT, 13; and JeM, 3. HM was also responsible for the second worst attack, in terms of fatalities among SFs, reported in the current year: On May 1, 2017, five Policemen, including an Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) and two Bank security guards, were killed when HM terrorists attacked a J&K Bank van in the Phambai area of Kulgam District. The terrorists decamped with four INSAS and one AK 47 rifles. The worst attack on SFs was recorded when LeT terrorists ambushed a Police party at Thajwara village in Achabal in Anantnag District, killing six Police personnel, including a Station House Officer (SHO), on June 16, 2017. In the most recent attack targeting SFs on August 3, 2017, HM terrorists killed two Army personnel, identified as Major Kamlesh Pandey and Sepoy Tanzin Chhultim, in the Zoipora area of Shopian District. Three terrorists believed to be involved in the attack managed to escape in the darkness.

Reports suggest that HM is continuing with its recruitment drive in the State. On July 16, 2017, SFs neutralized a HM module luring youth to militancy, arresting three HM terrorists in Baramulla District. Headed by HM 'commander' Parvez Wani aka Mubashir, a resident of Gagloora in Handwara in Kupwara District, the module had plans to send many boys to Pakistan on ‘valid visa’ to get them trained at terrorist camps in PoK. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP, Baramulla), Imtiyaz Hussain disclosed, "One of the accused Abdul Rashid Bhat had visited Pakistan in the month of May this year [2017] and got training for undertaking terrorist activities in Khalid bin Waleed camp of HM located in PoK," He also revealed that Bhat had taken a visa from the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi on the recommendation of a separatist organization. According to a July 16, 2017, media report, Police sources claimed that attempts of over 80 youth heading for arms training into PoK had been scuttled by SFs as a result of timely action over the preceding three months. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Ahir informed the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) on March 29, 2017, that as many as 104 local youth of J&K had joined terrorism since 2016. At least 88 local youth joined the extremists in 2016, mostly after the Burhan Wani’s killing, and another 16 have joined in the current year.

Meanwhile, reinforcing the direct connection between the Pakistani establishment and HM, as well as with all other Islamist terrorist formations operating in India and in the wider region around it, HM’s current ‘operational commander’ in Kashmir, Riyaz Naikoo declared, on July 30, 2017, “The Pakistani flag is our flag. Linking our struggle with al Qaeda and IS [Islamic State] is a ploy to defame it.” He was making the statement in the aftermath of Zakir Rashid Bhatt aka Musa being declared as the ‘head’ of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind.

Efforts to weaken HM on the ground inside Kashmir have met with significant success, and need to be intensified, even as greater pressure is mounted – diplomatically and strategically – on Pakistan to end its support to the extremist jihad in Kashmir. Significantly, on June 26, 2017, the United States (US) State Department designated the ‘chief’ of HM, Syed Salahudeen as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’, imposing a prohibition on all US citizens from engaging in transactions with Salahuddin and blocking all of Salahuddin's property and interests in property subject to US jurisdiction. Though India welcomed the US move and expressed the hope that the US decision would help in choking Salahuddin's movements and finance, the actual impact of this action is expected to be marginal at best, as many earlier ‘acts of designation’ targeting other terrorist leaders and formations operating out of Pakistan have failed to produce tangible results.

INDIA
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Bihar: Resurgent Threat
Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

In the intervening night of August 2 and 3, 2017, around 100 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres reportedly blew up a mobile tower, abducted three gatemen from different railway level-crossings and also laid siege to the Danapur Durg Express train for a few hours, abducting the cabin man, in the Lakhisarai District of Bihar. “Around 100 rebels were involved in the abductions from the level crossings, located in a 10-km radius,” Inspector General of Police (IGP), Bhagalpur Zone, S.M. Khopde disclosed. They then hijacked the train. A statement by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) noted, “Train no-13288 Danapur Durg Express train was hijacked near the Bhalui station [in Bhimbandh area of Lakhisarai] around 2:30 am (on Thursday). The cabin man who was on duty was also abducted.” The siege ended after an exchange of fire took place between personnel of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), a specialised unit of CRPF proficient in guerrilla tactics and jungle warfare, and the hijackers. However, no casualty was reported from either side. The gatemen and the cabin man were subsequently released.

The incident occurred on the last day of a weeklong bandh (general shutdown strike) called by the Maoists across India. ‘Martyrs’ week’ is observed by the Maoists every year between July 28 and August 3, to honour their comrades killed in encounters with Security Forces (SFs).

The last incident of train hijacking in the State was reported on June 13, 2013, in which at least three persons – a Railway Protection Force (RPF) trooper Sukhdev Devnath Singh from Uttarakhand, a sub-inspector with the Bihar Police, Kumar Amit, and an employee with a private firm, Sarwar Islam – were killed, and another 10 persons were injured when Maoists opened indiscriminate fire and hurled bombs on the 13331 Dhanbad-Patna Intercity Express in Jamui District.

According to partial data collated by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM), Bihar has accounted for at least 61 Maoist-linked attacks on the Railways since September 21, 2004 (the formation day of the CPI-Maoist), till August 6, 2017. These attacks have resulted in 25 deaths (nine civilians and 16 SFs) and 32 injured. While the August 2-3, 2017, incident was the first such operation reported in the current year, there were two such incidents in 2016 (no injuries or fatalities). There was no such incident in 2015, while in four incidents were recorded in 2014, with four civilians killed and eight injured. 

Meanwhile, civilians continued to bear the brunt of Naxalite [Left Wing Extremism (LWE)]-linked violence in the State. On July 14, 2017, three members of a family were abducted and subsequently killed in Jamui District by CPI-Maoist cadres, who suspected them to be ‘police informers’. Giving details on the incident, Jamui Superintendent of Police (SP), Jayant Kant disclosed, “We found the bodies near Kukurjhap dam near Barhat. A red slip found at the spot claimed responsibility for the killings.”

On June 24, 2017, a 26-year-old woman was beheaded by CPI-Maoist cadres in Nawada District. A note found near her body read, "She was a police informer and worked against the spirit of people's revolution. The local Police Station in-charge will meet the same fate”.

On June 17, 2017, CPI-Maoist cadres beheaded a man alleging he was a ‘police informer’ in Jamui District. Police said the Maoists abducted Vijay Barnawal, a resident of Bhelwaghati in the Giridih District of Jharkhand, who was earlier an active member of a Maoist group, on June 16, when he had gone to neighbouring Bihar for some work. His decapitated body was found in Sijuwa village, Jamui District.

According to partial data collated by the ICM, Bihar has already accounted for at least 10 civilian fatalities in the current year (data till August 6, 2017), as against seven such fatalities recorded during the corresponding period of 2016. Civilian fatalities during the corresponding period of earlier years, between 2011 and 2015, had registered continuous declines, from a peak of 30 in 2010, down to four in 2015. The number of civilians killed through 2016 stood at eight.

The recent surge is consequently worrisome, though it can primarily be attributed to the growing belief among the Maoists that more and more civilians are acting as ‘police informers’, as their cadres suffer increasing reverses at the hands of SFs’, while failing to inflict similar losses on SFs.

SFs have eliminated seven Maoists in the current year, thus far, without suffering a single loss. On the contrary, they had lost 13 of their own personnel, while killing only eight Maoists, in the corresponding period of 2016. The situation was not much better in the corresponding periods of 2014 and 2015 as well. SFs and Maoists lost an equal number (two each) in 2015, while the number of SF troopers killed was six, as against three Maoists in 2014. The total number of SF personnel (179), and Maoists (178) killed since September 1, 2004, is almost the same. The last major attack (involving three more fatalities) targeting SFs in Bihar was recorded on July 18, 2016, when 10 CoBRA commandos were killed and another five injured, in a CPI-Maoist orchestrated Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast and subsequent encounter in the Chakarbanda-Dumarinala Forests of Aurangabad District. Three Maoists were also killed in the encounter.

Meanwhile, SFs have arrested at least 67 Maoists so far in 2017, as against 73 such arrests in the corresponding period of 2016. Total arrests through 2016 stood at 104, and in 2015 at 153.

The Maoists have been involved in four incidents of arson in 2017 (till August 6), as against eight such incidents in the corresponding period of 2016. No incident of landmine explosion has been orchestrated by Maoists in the current year, whereas two such incidents were reported in 2016.

Unsurprisingly, Rajiv Rai Bhatnagar, Director General (DG) of the CRPF, claimed on July 26, 2017, that the area controlled by CPI-Maoist had "shrunk in three States in last two and a half years… There is substantial decline in areas controlled by Naxals in Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal. Disturbance in these areas are very less. Our major concern is in South Bastar of Chhattisgarh."

Nevertheless, the Maoists in Bihar remain a significant challenge, as was evident from the train hijacking incident and the increasing number of civilian killings.  According to the data available on the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) website, as on April 30, 2017, Bihar ranked third among the 10 States worst hit by LWE violence in 2016. MHA figures indicate that 1,048 incidents of LWE violence took place in 10 States in 2016. Bihar ranked third with 129 incidents; Chhattisgarh, with 395 incidents, topped the list, followed by Jharkhand with 323. Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal were the other LWE affected States listed.

Meanwhile, in addition to earlier security measures , the State Government has decided to initiate some new steps. According to a June 20, 2017, media report, the Bihar Government has announced cash rewards ranging from INR 25,000 to INR 500,000, for anyone giving information about at least 43 top CPI-Maoist leaders active in the State. The cash awards will be on offer for anyone who gets hold of the Maoist leaders – living or dead – or assists the Police in facilitating their arrest. Sanjiv Kumar Singhal, Additional Director General (ADG, Headquarters), stated, “Anyone cooperating with the Police in getting hold of the Maoists will be rewarded with cash, as announced by the Bihar government for each of the ultras falling in the rewards category.” Interestingly, no arrest has been reported thereafter.  

The top Maoists leaders with a cash reward of INR 500,000 include Arvind Kumar Singh aka Dev aka Arvind Kumar of Jehanabad; Sandip Ji aka Vijay Yadav of Gaya; Ram Babu Ram aka Rajan of Madhuban and Parvesh Da aka Anuj Da aka Amlesh Da of Hazaribagh (Jharkhand). Of these, Arvind is the topmost Maoist leader in the State, with a ‘national stature’. A politburo member of CPI-Maoist, he carries a reward of INR 10 million in Jharkhand, where he is wanted in at least 13 cases. He also carries a cash reward of INR four million each in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. In addition to these top four, a reward of INR 50,000 each has been announced on another 33 Maoists; and INR 25,000 each against four Maoists. Specific information regarding the remaining two is unavailable. Interestingly, 21 out of these 43 Maoists belong to a single District – Jamui in south-eastern Bihar.

On the operational front, SFs have decided to intensify action in Maoist strongholds. According to CRPF sources, three pockets – the Jamui/Nawada/Giridih triangular section, the Gaya Aurangabad section, and the Lakhisarai/ Munger/Banka/Jamui section – still see significant CPI-Maoist influence. On May 19, 2017, to effectively counter the Maoists, CRPF Inspector-General (IG), Bihar Sector, Manvider Singh Bhatia, disclosed that two additional battalions were required in the State to effectively tackle the threat. At present, three battalions of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and five regular and two CoBRA battalions of CRPF are deployed against the Maoists in Bihar. Bhatia also disclosed that the long-pending plan for positioning of a chopper, either at Patna or Gaya, for anti-Maoist operations, was discussed with State Government officials at a meeting held in Patna in April 2017. At present, four choppers are stationed in the Ranchi District of Jharkhand for anti-Maoist operations in Bihar.

The Maoists have suffered tremendous reverses across the country, and to retain some of their lost areas of influence, they are striving to ‘regain’ Bihar, an erstwhile their stronghold. A lack of political will has long hampered the state’s progress in its fight against the Maoists, and there are specific reports of direct links between the political class and the Maoists in the State. Most recently, during his interrogation, Musafir Sahni aka Alok Ji, a self-styled CPI-Maoist ‘zonal commander’ confessed that one north Bihar Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) had recently paid INR 500,000 to CPI-Maoist in Muzaffarpur District. Sahni further added that at least 25 elected people’s representatives, including three legislators, had been paying 'levy' to Maoists operating in north Bihar. Sahni was arrested along with four other CPI-Maoist cadres (Rambali Paswan, ‘area commander’ of Saraiyya area in Muzaffarpur; Anil Sahni; Ganesh Rai; and Shiv Kumar Ram) from Ramnagar village in the Sakra Police Station area of Muzaffarpur District on May 11, 2017. SFs recovered 18 live assault rifle cartridges, eight live pistol cartridges, two country made pistols, 14 detonators and Maoist literature from them.

Intensification of operations and a clear political mandate to SFs are now an imperative to prevent the Maoists from staging a comeback – however limited – in Bihar. Any lack of focus on their containment at this juncture will simply create opportunities for their reconsolidation in the State.


NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
July 31- August 6, 2017

 

Civilians

Security Force Personnel

Terrorists/Insurgents

Total

INDIA

 

Jammu and Kashmir

1
2
10
13

Manipur

1
0
1
2

Meghalayar

1
0
1
2

Left-Wing Extremism

 

Chhattisgarh

0
2
0
2

INDIA (Total)

3
4
12
19

PAKISTAN

 

Balochistan

0
0
4
4

Punjab

0
0
3
3

Sindh

0
0
5
5

PAKISTAN (Total)

0
0
12
12
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


BANGLADESH

Escaped JMB 'chief' is source of major headache for law enforcement in both Bangladesh and India, say CTTC officials: Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) officials said escaped Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) 'chief' Salahuddin alias Salehin is a source of major headache for law enforcement in both Bangladesh and India. CTTC Deputy Commissioner Mohibul Islam Khan said: "Of course Salahuddin is one of our targets. After escaping from the prison van, he has been trying to reorganize the group. According to our information, he is in India. We have informed the Indian side. They are also looking for him. Salahuddin is a veteran JMB leader. He will not hide quietly. It is only natural that he will try to regroup. But it will take him a long time to reorganize because most of their people are in jail and many top leaders have been hanged.” Dhaka Tribune , August 4, 2017.

Surveillance increased along bordering areas to check smuggling of arms and ammunition into country, says BGB DG Major General Abul Hossain: Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Director General (DG) Major General Abul Hossain briefing the media about the activities and success of the Para-military force at the BGB Headquarters in Pilkhana, Dhaka city on August 2 said they intensified surveillance along the bordering areas to check smuggling of arms and ammunition into the country before national election. He said, "Small caches of arms and ammunition are more or less always smuggled. But, the frequency of smuggling increases significantly ahead of general elections. We have already identified 500 vulnerable places. Just eight to ten of the spots are being used as smuggling routes. But, we are trying to stop the criminal act there.” Dhaka Tribune , August 3, 2017.


INDIA

86 of 117 terrorists killed in Jammu and Kashmir this year were from across the border, says report: As many as 86 of the 117 terrorists killed by the Security Forces (SFs) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) so far this year have been "foreign" ones or those who have sneaked across the Line of Control (LoC) from Pakistan or Pak-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) like the slain Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) 'commander' Abu Dujana. "This clearly indicates that the flow of intelligence from the `local' population against the foreign terrorists from Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) has definitely improved. Successful counter-insurgency operations, after all, are a direct result of good and real-time intelligence inputs. There also seems to be a growing schism between foreign and local terrorists," said an official on August 2. Times of India , July 26, 2017.

38 security personnel killed in Maoist attacks in past six months in Chhattisgarh, says Central Government: A total 38 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) security personnel were martyred in 15 incidents of attacks by cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) in Chhattisgarh during the past six months as on June, 30, 2017, says the Central Government on August 3. During this period, incidents of attacks by cadres of CPI-Maoists in other Naxal [Left Wing Extremists (LWEs)] infested states are as follows- Andhra Pradesh (1), Bihar (3), Jharkhand (4), Maharashtra (8) and Odisha (1). The Pioneer, August 4, 2017.

Dialogue can start the day Pakistan stops promoting terror against India, states Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj: India will start dialogue with Pakistan the day Islamabad stops promoting terrorism against this country, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said in Parliament on August 3, while making it clear that