NIA seeks access to JeM chief Azhar & brother Rauf.
NIA seeks access to JeM chief Azhar & brother Rauf.
The five-member Pakistani Joint Investigation Team, accompanied by Indian officials, visited “sanitised” parts of the Pathankot IAF base on Tuesday to conduct a probe into the January 2 terror attack. Throwing the ball into the NIA’s court, the Pakistanis told the NIA it had a mandate to collect evidence in the case under its country’s laws and that there will be no judicial request for it.
The JIT had not so far made any formal request to the NIA for sharing evidence on the attack, keeping it waiting for an official Letters Rogatory to hand over evidence for the past three months. The NIA may now need to examine the issue legally to be able to “officially hand over evidence”, official sources said. So far it has only shown the evidence to the five-member Pakistani team.
The NIA, meanwhile, decided to seek access to Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar and his brother-in-law Abdul Rauf, the alleged masterminds of the Pathankot attack, both of whom are in Pakistan. “We will seek access to Masood Azhar and his brother-in-law at an appropriate time,” NIA director-general Sharad Kumar said. He said both were accused in the case and will have to be questioned at some point. While Azhar is wanted by India in several terror cases, including the 2001 attack on Parliament and the bomb blast in the J&K Assembly in Srinagar the same year, Rauf has a red corner notice pending against him over the 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft from Kathmandu.
On Wednesday, the NIA will also seek details of the probe by Pakistani agencies on Pathankot so far, after India handed over a list of requests, including identifying some phone numbers that the terrorists had called minutes before launching the attack.
In their interaction with NIA officials on Tuesday, the Pakistanis were asked whether any Letters Rogatory will be sent by Islamabad for collection of evidence against the JeM terrorists who carried out the suicide attack. The Pakistani team, headed by Punjab’s counter-terror chief Muhammad Tahir Rai and including ISI’s Lt. Col. Tanvir Ahmed, said it had the mandate under Pakistani law to collect the evidence.
The Pakistanis are also yet to make a formal request for questioning witnesses. “The witnesses will be made available only upon a request,” the NIA chief said. India plans to give the Pakistanis access to all witnesses in the case, except the NSG and BSF personnel who took part in the gunbattle with the terrorists at the airbase. The witnesses include Punjab SP Salwinder Singh, his jeweller friend Rajesh Verma, cook Madan Gopal and 17 others who were injured in the attack.
Indian sources said cooperation with the Pakistani team will be on the principle of reciprocity, in the hope that an Indian team will be allowed to travel to Pakistan at a later date.
On Tuesday, the Pakistani team arrived at the airbase in Pathankot by bus from Amritsar, where they had flown from New Delhi in a special aircraft. The team travelled in a convoy of bulletproof vehicles, escorted by Punjab police commandos and a SWAT team, amid speculation that terrorists may target the JIT members. They entered the airbase from a rear gate as the Congress and AAP held protests outside the main entrance of the base.
Orange and blue tarpaulin could be seen draping interiors in several areas of the strategic facility, in an apparent bid to ensure “visual prohibition” being put in place, as the media was kept firmly away.
At the base, NIA officers showed them the “crime scene” that had seen a 80-hour gunbattle on the night of January 1-2, in which at least four terrorists were gunned down. The Pakistanis were also taken to other places relevant to the case, including the Unjh river, from where the JeM terrorists had crossed over into the town. Away from the media glare, an NIA team led by IGP Sanjiv Singh briefed them on the investigations carried out so far. They were also taken to Koliyan village, where Punjab SP Salwinder Singh, his friend Rajesh Verma and cook
Madan Gopal were abducted by terrorists in a blue SUV. They were taken to Gulpur village, where the SP and his cook were dumped by terrorists. Then they were taken to Tajpur village, where the SUV was found with Rajesh in an injured condition. The JIT members also went to “Kathlor ka pul”, where driver Ikagar was killed, and “Narot Jaimal Singh” where Salwinder’s vehicle was found abandoned. The team also went to the Unjhh river bridge in Bamial, near the border, where the terrorists are believed to have crossed over the border. The team could not go to the Bamial forward post as the BSF had reservations given its strategic importance and the existence of underground bunkers in that area.
Outside the Pathankot airbase, the AAP and Congress protesters accused the BJP government of hurting the sentiments of Indians by letting the Pakistani team probe a terror attack on Indian soil. Delhi’s AAP minister Kapil Mishra, who was also in Pathankot, said that allowing the JIT to visit the airbase was “shameful and disgusting”. He said: “For the first time in 35 years, we are saying that the ISI is not supporting terrorism... The same people who killed our people have come here... This is so shameful and disgusting.”