Pulwama: Hizbul Mujahideen Threatens More Fidayeen Attacks

In an audio recording, the group's commander Riyaz Naikoo said even Kashmiri teenagers are ready to "sacrifice" their lives.

Srinagar: Days after the deadly Pulwama attack that claimed lives of more than 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers in Kashmir, the Valley’s largest militant group, the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), has warned of similar fidayeen attacks in the future.

In a 17-minute audio recording released on social media, HM’s operational commander Riyaz Naikoo said the recent incidents in Kashmir are the result of “atrocities committed on the people of Kashmir”.

“We will keep on sacrificing our lives. We prefer to die than surrender. The day is not far when our 15-year-old children will strap explosives on their bodies and barge into your army vehicles. We prefer death over slavery,” Naikoo is heard saying in the audio recording, which the police haven’t officially verified yet.

The outfit, whose ranks are filled predominantly by local Kashmiri youth, has not used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or suicide bombing to target the armed forces, unlike the Laskar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad.

Even though Naikoo did not specify that his organisation will employ such tactics in the future, his statement is significant. The United Jihad Council, headed by the Hizbul Mujahideen, signed a declaration in 2007, saying its members had never used anti-personnel landmines. The militant group pledged that they won’t use landmines in their fight against Indian security forces in the future also.

The UJC is a conglomerate of 13 militant groups headed by Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahudin. The group has five “observer members”, including the LeT and JeM.

The UJC declaration was a result of negotiations led by the Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in partnership with the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a Srinagar-based ICBL member. The UJC said then that it may continue to use “command-detonated IEDs against military targets”.

Security agencies inspect the site of the Pulwama suicide bomb attack. Credit: PTI

In his statement, Naikoo said the militants in the Valley had been “forced to pick up arms”.

“You will have to cry till the time you are here. The coffins of your soldiers will continue to fill till your army is here. We are ready to die but won’t allow you to live as well,’” Naikoo said.

Former home secretary of India G.K. Pillai told The Wire that the government must act carefully, given the sensitivity of the situation in Kashmir. “I have often said this and will repeat it again: focus on the people (of Kashmir) and not the territory. If the focus is on winning hearts and minds of the people, you will see that insurgency or Pakistan will not even be a factor in Kashmir anymore”.

Watch: Wide Angle: Lessons from Pulwama Terror Attack

While Pillai stressed on the need for a non-muscular policy in Kashmir, several former senior security officials see the Pulwama attack as a reaction to a major crackdown on militants.

A senior paramilitary officer speaking to The Wire said the fidayeen attacks, especially by locals, could be a major concern if not dealt with immediately.

He said one of the chief characteristics of Kashmir’s new militancy is to conduct “spectacular attacks”.

“Last year started on a bad note, with a major fidayeen attack. But after that, we were able to effectively control the situation and not even a single fidayeen attack took place. The Pulwama attack is definitely a matter of concern, but we are doing everything in our capacity to ensure such incidents do not repeat,” the officer said.

He was referring to an attack on December 31, 2017, when three militants of the JeM lobbed grenades into a CRPF training centre and stormed the facility in Lethpora area of south Kashmir, not far from where the February 14 attack took place.

Meanwhile, the CRPF’s investigation into the Pulwama attack is underway. According to internal documents, a convoy consisting of 78 vehicles and 2,547 transients reached the transit camp Qazigund area of Kashmir at 2:15 pm on February 14. Fourteen vehicles stopped at the destination and two developed defects. Sixteen more bullet proof vehicles were added to the CRPF convoy, which then started to move towards Pulwama region.

At 3:33 pm, a vehicle-borne IED exploded, inflicting maximum damage on one bus that was carrying 39 troopers. The Jaish militant waited for four vehicles to pass and targeted the fifth one bearing registration number HR 49F 0637.