New Delhi: The Pulwama terror attack, where a suicide bombing killed at least 40 CRPF jawans in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, points to a dangerous new pattern of militants jettisoning ambushes for tactics that aim to wreak maximum destruction on India and minimum casualties on terrorists, intelligence officials said.
The attack shows Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the Pakistan-based terror outfit that claimed responsibility, has emerged as the bigger outfit in Jammu and Kashmir, with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Hizbul Mujahideen taking a back seat. This, security experts said, has led to a revival of terror tactics used in the 1990s that were repulsed and successfully ended by the security forces in the early 2000s.
LeT’s and Hizbul’s favoured tactics were to engage security forces in gunbattles, while the JeM has been drawing inspiration “not just from the Taliban Al-Qaeda, which conduct large scale IED (improvised explosive device) blasts and suicide missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but from the Islamic State as well, whose signature move is to destroy not by contact, but by large-scale suicide attacks," one of the experts said.
While intelligence units had tipped off security forces in Jammu and Kashmir about an impending strike by JeM, security forces who were on the ground on Thursday claimed that even though routine area sanitization exercises had been carried out, the attack was “unprecedented".
Intelligence officials have now issued a warning: traditional ambushes will continue in Kashmir, even as mass destruction through IED blasts and suicide attacks gain prominence.
“Around 2004-05, the Indian Army wiped out the kingpins of terrorism in Kashmir, who had the technical know-how of building IEDs and other weapons. Then, from last year, we realized that there were stray episodes of IED blasts, which indicated that the know-how was back. Now these outfits have not only managed to smuggle in explosives into Kashmir, but have begun implementing their plans in a big way and the warning signs were ignored," said a senior intelligence expert who did not want to be identified.
This is a trend that needs to be observed very closely over the next two years—the standard time-frame for assessing security—in Kashmir, said intelligence officials.
Thursday’s suicide bomber, Adil Ahmad Dar, a 20-year-old school dropout from Pulwama, had been recruited by the JeM last year to specifically train for the attack.
Dar, part of the outfit’s suicide squad, was radicalized in school and given small tasks such as instigating stone-pelting in the valley.
What followed was a year of reconnaissance and detailed planning, which culminated in Dar ramming a car packed with 300kg of explosives into a CRPF bus carrying 51 soldiers as part of a large convoy.
“About 99% of the recruits are local Kashmiris. Pakistan doesn’t need to send terrorists from across the border. They are home-grown. Now, suicide bombings are going to start in Kashmir and it will radically change the dimensions of terrorism that we have seen till date. They are drawing inspiration from what is going on in Afghanistan and from what the Islamic State has been doing," a senior security force officer said, requesting anonymity.
“Terrorists in the future will rely on indirect attacks or suicide bombers where damage is maximum and casualties among terrorists are minimum. Such tactics have not been used earlier because it is very difficult to bring explosives from across and people trained to make IEDs had been killed by forces during 2004-05. Now the expertise has been resurrected and explosives have been brought in. So we need to be extremely cautious," said Lt. Gen (retd) H.S. Panag, a defence expert.