The National Investigation Agency (NIA), in its chargesheet in the Pulawama terror attack case, named Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, his brother and deputy Rouf Asgar, their cousin Ammar Alvi, all based in Pakistan, and Rouf’s ex-bodyguard Mohd Ismail, suspected to be in India, as the prime masterminds behind the February 2019 fidayeen strike that killed 40 CRPF personnel and brought India to the brink of war with Pakistan.
Of the 19 accused in the 13,500-page chargesheet that refers to the involvement of ISI and Pakistan's other state actors, seven have been arrested, six are absconding and six have died.
The deceased include Azhar’s nephew Mohammad Umar Farooq, who an NIA officer said was tasked directly by the Jaish chief to infiltrate into Kashmir in 2018 to oversee execution of the "well-planned conspiracy".
NIA sources said the chargesheet — backed by digital, forensic, documentary and oral evidence against the accused — contained a “vitriolic” clip of the Jaish chief condemning the killing of his nephew Usman Haider in Tral in 2018 and exhorting Kashmiri locals to avenge it with “shahadat”, which motivated Pulwama bomber Adil Ahmad Darto take on the suicide mission.
As per the investigating agency, the jihadi outfit had even planned a second attack on a key Indian security installation soon after the Pulwama "success".
However, Azhar instructed accused Umar Farooq — IC-814 hijacker Ibrahim Athar’s son who was killed one-and-a-half months after the Pulwama attack — to abort the attack in view of the international scrutiny on Jaish and Pakistan following the IAF strikes on terror facilities in Balakot. “Mufti has asked the attack to be put on hold,” went the message passed on to Umar, with ‘Mufti’ seen as a reference to Azhar who is held responsible for many terror attacks across India.
The NIA chargesheet said Azhar, Rouf and Ammar were continuously giving directions to the Pakistani JeM terrorists Umar, Mohd Ismail, Mohd Kamran and Qari Yasir both before and after the attack.
NIA sources said the chargesheet has references to the role of Pakistani state actors including ISI in the Pulwama attacks. “Investigation revealed a well-crafted mechanism by Pakistani establishment to push terrorists into Indian territory from launch pads located in Shakargarh (Pakistan) opposite Samba-Kathua sector in Jammu,” the agency said on Tuesday.
The arrested accused, as per the chargesheet filed in an NIA court in Jammu, are Shakir Bashir, Insha Jan, Waiz-ul-Islam, Peer Tariq Ahmed Shah, Mohd Abbas Rather, Bilal Ahmed Kucheyand Mohd Iqbal Rather, all from Kashmir.
Besides Azhar, Rouf and Ammar, the absconding accused include Mohd Ismail, Sameer Ahmad Dar and Ashaq Ahmed Nengroo. The accused who are now dead included suicide bomber Adil Ahmad Dar, Muddasir Ahmad Khan, Pakistani terrorists Umar Farooq, IED expert Mohd Kamran Ali and Qari Yasir, and owner of the car fitted with the IED Sajjad Ahmad Bhat.
Indian authorities had claimed to have found strong evidence of Jaish's involvement in the attack on CRPF troopers, leading the IAF to bomb one of the main terror centres in Balakot.
Umar Farooq, the NIA said, had trained in Afghanistan in 2016 and 2017 before infiltrating into India in 2018. Since then, he and his Pakistani compatriots, with local associates, had been working on arranging resources and logistics for the attack.
Shakir Bashir started reconnaissance of forces' movement on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway in December 2018. Gelatin sticks and RDX brought in by Pakistani terrorists, aluminium powder ordered by Waiz-ul-Islam from Amazon and calcium-ammonium nitrate were used by Umar, Sameer, Adil and Shakir to make the IED by the first week of February 2019. The IED, packed into two containers weighing 160 kg and 40 kg, was fitted in a Maruti Eeco car by February 6. However, the attack was delayed due to closure of the national highway because of snowfall.
NIA sources said two local Kashmiri bombers were “prepared and trained” by Umar Farooq to carry out the fidayeen attack. While Adil Dar was chosen and carried out the suicide mission, the other trained fidayeen was subsequently killed.
When the national highway opened on February 14, Shakir Bashir drove Adil till the highway, after which the latter took the wheel and carried out the suicide mission. The NIA chargesheet put the damage to public property in the attack at around Rs 33 lakh.