BY AHMED ALI FAYYAZ
The UN Security Council (UNSC) designated international terrorist and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) founder Maulana Masood Azhars three nephews, each carrying a US-made M4 sniper, have been killed in three different encounters in Kashmir in the last three years.
A number of US-made M4 sniper rifles, used by Nato forces to fight terrorism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, have fallen in the hands of Azhar’s guerrilla group, JEM, in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Released by India in exchange for the IC-814 hostages at Kandahar in December 1999, Azhar has been designated as an international terrorist by the UNSC in May 2019, after years of sustained resistance by China.
The M4 carbine is extensively used by the US Armed Forces and is replacing the M16 rifle in the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps combat units as the primary infantry weapon and service rifle. The M4 is also capable of mounting the M203 and M320 grenade launchers.
The M4 has semi-automatic and three-round burst firing modes (like the M16A2 and M16A4), while the M4A1 has semi-automatic and fully automatic firing modes (like the M16A1 and M16A3). It is essentially a lighter and shorter variant of the M16A2 assault rifle with a telescopic stock.
Three of Azhar’s nephews-Talha Rashid, Usman Ibrahim and Umar Farooq-have died in different encounters with security forces in Kashmir in the last three years. All the three were in possession of M4 rifles which were recovered, along with other arms and ammunition, from the sites of the gun battles. Till now different variants of the Russian-made Kalashnikov or AK-series rifles have been the principal assault weapon with the Kashmiri and the Pakistani militants in J&K since 1988.
The M4 has entered the scene amid apprehensions that sections of jihadist guerrillas could shift their base to Kashmir after a compromise between the Americans and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Dilbag Singh, DG, J&K Police, puts the number of the militants with M4 rifles around six, claiming that ten US-made snipers had been seized. “Five to six JeM commanders are active with M4 rifles but they are well on our radar,” he said. However, some senior officials of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), who have been associated with the investigation of high-profile terror attacks in the last two years, maintained that 10 to 15 JeM commanders were currently armed with M4 rifles.
“The commander of every JeM module of 3-4 militants has one M4 but they have not been able to cause much damage to the police or the security forces,” said an NIA officer.
During investigations, the NIA has learned that as many as 60 JeM militants had infiltrated into Kashmir through the international border in Jammu between June 2017 to January 2020. They sneaked into the Samba and Hiranagar areas in groups of three to five. An unknown number of infiltrators is said to have entered through one underground tunnel which has surfaced early this year. According to the officials, each group carried 3-4 AK rifles and one M4 rifle.
Three of such groups were intercepted at Jhajjar Kotli, Bann Toll Plaza and Jawahar Tunnel on the 265-km long Jammu-Srinagar highway. Each time the modus operandi was to board a waiting truck in Samba or Hiranagar and reach the JeM’s hideouts in Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama districts in southern Kashmir.
On June 20, an unsuccessful attempt was made with the help of the Pakistani Rangers to deliver arms and ammunition, including one M4, two magazines and 60 rounds of ammunition, besides seven M67 grenades, by an 18-kg drone. The quadcopter was, however, spotted by the BSF observation posts in Hiranagar and shot down. The consignment was supposedly for a Pakistani terror commander Ali Bhai, based in South Kashmir. Officials believe this was the first such attempt.
A three-member group of JeM infiltrators, travelling by an arranged truck, was intercepted by security forces near Jhajjar Kotli on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, on September 12, 2018. All the three militants were killed. Their driver and another civilian facilitator were arrested.
In an identical chance encounter at Bann Toll Plaza on January 31, another group of three JeM infiltrators was killed on the Jammu-Srinagar highway. Their truck driver and one civilian facilitator were arrested.
On September 9, the J&K Police intercepted a vehicle at Jawahar Tunnel on the same highway. One M4, one AK rifle and six Chinese pistols were recovered from the truck on the way to the valley from Jammu. The driver, along with a terror facilitator, both residents of Shopian, was arrested.
Talha Rashid, son of Masood Azhar’s sister, was killed in an encounter on November 7, 2017 at Aglar Kandi in Pulwama district. His Pakistani associate Mehmood Bhai and a local militant, Waseem of Drabgam Pulwama, were also killed in the same encounter. Rashid’s M4 was among the other arms and ammunition recovered.
In the middle of 2018, security agencies learned that JeM had deployed four of its commanders, each armed with an M4, from its training centres in Pakistan. Sameer Tiger, one of the most wanted militant commanders with one M4, made his own photograph viral on the social media.
Later that year, Azhar’s second nephew (the son of his brother), Usman Ibrahim alias Haider, was known to have attacked and killed three security personnel in separate sniper attacks in 10 days in the Tral-Awantipora belt. He was killed, along with an associate, in an encounter at Chankitar, Tral, on October 31, 2018. His M4 too was recovered.
Azhar’s third nephew Umar Farooq was killed, along with his Pakistani associate Kamran, in an encounter at Suthsoo Kalan village, bordering Budgam and Pulwama districts, on March 29, 2019. The recoveries included Umar Farooq’s M4 carbine. Umar and Kamran had allegedly played a key role in planning and executing the fidayeen attack in which the Kashmiri suicide bomber Adil Dar killed 40 paramilitary personnel at Lethapora, Awantipora, on the Jammu-Srinagar highway on February 14, 2019.
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