In a first such major crackdown, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has arrested seven Kashmiri separatists on charges of receiving funds from Pakistan to sponsor terrorist activities and protests by stone-throwers in the Kashmir Valley. Among those arrested is Hurriyat Conference hardliner Sayed Ali Shah Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Shah, and three key aides, Ayaz Akbar, Me’raj Kalwal and Bashir Ahmad Bhat.
The three other separatists arrested today are Nayeem Khan, Farooq Ahmad Dar aka Bitta Karate and Shahid-ul-Islam, a close associate of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, seen as a moderate among separatists.
Officials said they are all key operatives running the separatist agenda in the Kashmir Valley of Geelani, who advocates the merger of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan.
“Evidence collected so far clearly proves a financial trail as well as a direct link between terror activities and funding from Pakistan-based terror groups,” NIA spokesman Alok Mittal said.
“This is a major and influential step. There will be a major impact on terrorism,” said the BJP’s RK Singh.
Bitta Karate – a former militant accused of several killings but let off by court because of lack of evidence – was arrested from Delhi. The others were arrested in Srinagar and will be taken to the national capital, an NIA official said. The elite organisation, which investigates terror cases, made the arrests after a two-month long investigation.
The separatists were questioned several times in Srinagar and Delhi – Geelani’s son-in-law for two weeks – before the formal arrests today and vital documents were seized during raids conducted on their homes, officials said.
While India has for years accused Pakistan of funding, arming and training Kashmiri separatists, it is the first time that so many senior members of the Hurriyat Conference have been arrested on charges of receiving money from Pakistan.
The NIA first information report names Pakistan-based terror mastermind Hafeez Saeed, who heads the Jamaat-ul Dawah, a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), as an accused, as it does the Hurriyat Conference and terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen.
The Geelani faction of the Hurriyat had suspended Nayeem Khan, one of the people arrested today, earlier this year, after he was seen in a TV sting operation in May admitting that Hurriyat leaders had received funds from Pakistan for subversive activities in the Kashmir Valley.
In June, the NIA had conducted raids in Srinagar, Jammu, Delhi and Haryana and and had reportedly recovered account books, Rs 2 crore in cash and letterheads of banned terrorist groups including the Lashkar and the Hizbul.
The NIA also seized property-related documents, pen drives, laptops, mobile phones, phone diaries, receipts and vouchers from the residences showing hawala payments, officials said.