Indian Army soldier takes position along LoC in J&K
File Photo

JAMMU — As a first substantial breakthrough in the Poonch ambush probe, security forces zeroed in on a man, who allegedly provided ‘shelter’ and ‘support’ to the militants for at least two months before executing the April 20 attack, that claimed the lives of five soldiers.

Meanwhile, the search operation to track down the ultras entered the sixth day.

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Sources quoted by the news agency KNO said that following leads and cross-checking the statements of 50 detainees in the case, forces zeroed in on Nasir, a local, for his involvement in sheltering and supporting the militants for more than two months, before executing the ambush in Tota Gali, Bhata Dhurian in Bhimbir Gali sector, Mendhar Poonch.

Army Commander Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi visited the twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch and took stock of the ongoing operation, the officials said, adding that he asked the troops to be relentless in their pursuit. This was the army commander’s second visit to the region in less than a week.

Five army personnel were killed, and another was seriously injured after their vehicle was attacked by militants in Poonch last Thursday. A massive search and cordon operation was launched after the attack and it has now spread to 12 areas across the twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri.

Sources claimed that after sustained questioning and cross-checking the statements of a local, he confessed his involvement and told investigators that he sheltered the militants at his house for more than two months and “provided them logistic and material support.” “Some of the detainees were let off after questioning,” they said.

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Special forces are also engaged in the search operation, the sources said, adding the agencies are backed by drones, sniffer dogs and metal detectors. A large spread of forest areas, deep gorges, natural caves and dense growths have been searched and the operation is now covering other places, they said.

Meanwhile, a balloon from across the border was noticed in Jhalas area of Poonch, they said.

Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi took stock of the search operation which entered its sixth day on Wednesday. “He interacted with the troops deployed in remote areas and exhorted them to be innovative and relentless in their pursuit,” the Northern Command tweeted.

This was the second visit of the army commander to the border districts within five days. Earlier on April 22, Lt Gen Dwivedi had visited the attack site at Bhata Dhurian, a notorious infiltration route for militants from across the Line of Control because of its topography, dense forest cover and natural caves.

Sources had earlier said that seven to eight militants spread in two groups are believed to have engineered the attack.

According to initial investigation, the militants reportedly hid in a culvert on the road from where they launched the attack on the truck which was carrying fruits, vegetables and other items to Sangiote village from the Bhimber Gali camp for Iftar to be organized by the Rashtriya Rifles.

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Over 50 bullet marks were spotted on the vehicle that shows the intensity of the firing by the militants, the sources said.

The troops involved in the operation are exercising utmost caution as the militants may have planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the densely forested area with deep gorges and caves, they added.

The slain soldiers were from a Rashtriya Rifles unit deployed for ‘counter-terror’ operations.

Experts from various agencies including the National Security Guard (NSG) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) have visited the site of the attack, the officials said.

They said a sniper is believed to have targeted the vehicle from the front before his associates showered bullets and lobbed grenades on the vehicle from opposite sides, apparently giving the troops no time to retaliate.

“The terrorists used steel-coated bullets that can penetrate an armoured shield,” they said, adding, “Before fleeing, the terrorists stole the soldiers’ arms and ammunition.”

Even as security forces continued with their cordon and search operations for the sixth day, People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF), an offshoot of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), has released some pictures on social sites claiming them to be from the site of the ambush at Tota Gali.

In the posts on social sites, PAFF, which had earlier claimed responsibility of the attack, has stated that some parts of the videos of the ‘operation’ will be released ‘soon’.

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