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|October 8, 2001||
The Rediff Interview/ Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police A K Suri
Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police A K Suri has commended his men for meeting the terrorist threat on October 1 with determination and discipline. The suicide attack at the state legislature that day left 42 people dead and at least 60 people injured.
In an exclusive interview with Onkar Singh in Srinagar, Suri said though he does not rule out the threat of increased violence in the coming weeks, be believes the state police and para-military forces are ready to meet the challenge.
What happened on October 1? How did the terrorists break the security cordon?
A Tata Sumo belonging to the telecommunication department was seized in downtown Srinagar at 1305 hours by terrorists belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammad. The executive engineer in the vehicle was asked to get down. However, the driver was not allowed to leave. The terrorists went to some locations nearby and picked up explosives. Thereafter, they drove the vehicle towards Jahangir Chowk. We had imposed traffic restrictions as the legislature session was on, to ensure that such attacks do not take place.
After the session ended, the traffic restrictions were removed. This vehicle went towards the legislature; a few yards before the gate it exploded.
How did three terrorists enter the legislature building after the explosion?
According to our investigation, a few minutes before the vehicle exploded, it stopped for a while. Three or four terrorists in police uniform disembarked. After the explosion, taking advantage of the situation, these terrorists managed to get in. No one noticed them because they were in police uniform.
Is it true they were asking for Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah?
Yes, this is true. They ran into the building asking, 'Where is the assembly? Where is Dr Farooq Abdullah?' Not knowing the exact location they entered the complex housing offices of the assembly secretariat. They resorted to indiscriminate firing and grenade attacks. Some officials were killed at the gate, others inside because of the firing.
When did senior police officers reach the spot?
My senior officers reached the spot within 15 to 20 minutes of the blast. We ensured that we confined the terrorists within the office complex. They were not allowed to move out.
When did you reach the spot?
I reached the spot within half an hour. My top priority was to evacuate the top political leadership who were still in the building, including the chairman of the legislative council and the minister of state for home. We had to ensure the safety of a large number of employees also present in the complex. We conducted the evacuation as carefully as possible, ensuring that none was injured in the cross-fire.
How much time did this process take? What happened to the terrorists inside?
I guess it took us a little over two hours to bring out all the people from the building, barring, of course, some who we could not reach in time. The terrorists continued to fire and lob grenades, killing innocent people inside the building.
How much ammunition did they have, considering that they engaged the security forces for a long time?
Each terrorist carried approximately 30 to 36 grenades. In addition to loaded AK-47 rifles, the terrorists carried three to four magazines. This was enough to engage the security forces for over three hours.
What did you do once the legislature employees and politicians were evacuated? Why did it take so long to get the terrorists?
Clearing is a tedious process, and it takes time. We started a room to room search a little after 1715 when the evacuation concluded. Finding that they had no way to escape, around 1815 the terrorists set the building ablaze. They jumped out of the windows, firing at the officers and men blocking their exit. That is when the BSF (Border Security Force) lost two of its men. While one fidayeen (suicide bomber) blew himself up in the car, the other three were killed by the security forces.
Some legislators said they could have been more terrorists.
No, this (that there were four terrorists) is the claim made by Jaish-e-Mohammad. This was verified by us after the encounter was over.
Jaish-e-Mohammad later disowned the attack. Why?
They had their own compulsions. They had to withdraw their claim because of the flak they were getting from the world. Even the Pakistan government condemned the incident. This is not the first time Jaish-e-Mohammad has withdrawn its claim. They have done it in the past. I am not surprised at their retraction.
Is it true that Jaish-e-Mohammad has been funded by Osama bin Laden?
This is true. We have information that the funds for Jaish are coming from bin Laden. To understand this, you must go through the basic structure of the organization. Jaish-e-Mohammad is a creation of Masood Azhar, who was arrested in Srinagar in 1994, released in exchange (in December 1999) for the passengers of hijacked Flight 814 and transported to Kandahar. It is an open secret that he expanded the base of terrorist organizations the world over and has been a close associate of bin Laden.
Is it true that bin Laden gave large sums of money to Masood Azhar to launch the Jaish-e-Mohammad?
This is a fact. Jaish is part of Osama's overall strategy to spread terrorism the world over. The funding would naturally come to Jaish from Osama.
Is it true that bin Laden gave Masood Azhar close to $ 2 million?
It would be difficult to give you the exact amount, but Osama did give money to Masood Azhar. That is true.
What is the total strength of Jaish-e-Mohammad?
The number of terrorists belonging to this organization operating in Kashmir is close to 600 to 700. It has essentially Pakistan-based terrorists. The number of Kashmiris involved in subversive activities could be a bare minimum.
Which are the other terrorist organizations active in Kashmir?
Besides Jaish, the other terrorists are the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Al Badr and some other small outfits who keep coming in from time to time.
Do you think the American decision not to include these outfits in the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations is having an adverse impact on Kashmir?
Decidedly. This has emboldened these organizations, and that is why you see terrorist attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly and other places. The number of terrorist incidents in the valley have suddenly gone up after the Americans released their list which did not contain these outfits.
Has there been a substantial increase in the number of infiltrators coming to India? Is is true that members of the Taleban are also crossing over to India?
We have no information about members of the Taleban crossing over to the Indian side. We have no firm statistics about the number of terrorists crossing because this keeps going up and down. But infiltration is going on.
But you do not rule out members of the Taleban coming over?
Nothing can be ruled out. If they find themselves under pressure, to save their lives they might look for a safe place anywhere including Kashmir.
Let me add here that we have taken stock of the law and order situation after the October 1 blast and we have changed our strategy to counter suicide attacks.
Is it true that security personnel have had some major successes in recent times?
In the last four months we have accounted for more then 800 terrorists. We have been achieving a lot of successes so far as the killing of militants are concerned.
What then is the problem?
The problem is swift replacements (of those killed).
How would assure you the people of the state that you are on the job, and you would take care of the terrorists?
I can only assure the people that we are doing our job to the best of our ability. We have the capacity to counter terrorists and account for them.
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