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Sopore Becomes Hotbed Of Militants

After throwing a grenade at the Sopore police station on Friday morning, the four militants armed with AK rifles didn't flee. Instead, they waited a dozen yards away in the neighbourhood across the street.An hour
PTI January 17, 2010 11:52 IST

After throwing a grenade at the Sopore police station on Friday morning, the four militants armed with AK rifles didn't flee. Instead, they waited a dozen yards away in the neighbourhood across the street.

An hour later, when a police party tried to cordon off the neighbourhood, they returned to the gate of the police station, throwing grenades and opening fire at the personal guards of the Superintendent of Police who was inside, says a report in The Indian Express.

The encounter, which killed one policeman and a civilian and injured four policemen on Friday, is the seventh such attack this year. But the manner in which the militants attacked a police station in broad daylight in the middle of Sopore town has shocked the security establishment.

In fact, there are ample signs that after a hiatus of three years, militancy has returned with vigour. And Sopore town —a one-time hub of the Valley's pro-Pakistan militant groups—is back as the centre of this renewed militant movement.

The J&K Police has confirmed the presence of 25 top militants active in Sopore alone while putting the adjoining 14 villages of Zaingeer belt that connects Sopore town to Bandipore as the new militant hub in north Kashmir.

Police sources suggest that the three top commanders of Lashkar, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Hizbul are hiding in this area. Identified as Abdullah Unny of Lashkar, Nouman of Harkat and Hizbul Mujahideen's old hand Dawood, the police say the militants have revived their networks and established links between their new hideouts in Kupwara, Sopore and Bandipore.

 Inspector General of J&K Police, Kashmir range, Farooq Ahmad said that there is presence and movement of militants especially Lashkar in Sopore town and the adjoining villages of Zainageer. “This is a problem and we are making serious effort to address it,” he said. The presence of militants in Sopore town is no longer underground. Police sources reveal that Lashkar's top commander Abdullah Unny had been moving around freely till the local police released his pictures recently.

Then the recent fidayeen attack in Lalchowk where two militants engaged the police and the security forces in a stand-off for more than 22 hours too had originated in Sopore. The local militant Manzoor Ahmad alias Usman who was part of the fidayeen squad and was killed in the Lalchowk stand-off was from a village in the outskirts of Sopore town. Then the police traced the location of Harkat commander Nouman—who was directing the two militants during the Lalchowk encounter—to Sopore town.

Senior police officers told The Indian Express that the reason as to why the militants have been able to establish their network effectively in Sopore town and the adjoining Zainageer belt is the ideological background of the majority of the people in this area. “It has been very difficult to generate information about the militant movement or their hideouts. The militants have support here,” a senior officer said. “Sopore-Zainageer is a traditional support base of separatists, especially pro-Pakistan groups.”

 The militant presence is, however, not limited to Sopore and Zainageer alone. The J&K Police's internal assessment suggests that there are more than 50 militants active in Lolab which is connected to both Zainageer and Bandipore through mountain passes. Police also reveal that there is a new militant module consisting of 25 militants in Rajwar belt.

South Kashmir is also not calm. Sources in the J&K police reveal that there is new militant infiltration in Anantnag and Kulgam areas. “We have no idea about the number of the militants,” a top police officer said. The police have identified Tral, Kellar and Damhal Hanjipora as the new militant hubs across South Kashmir. “Our inputs suggest that there are 15 militants active in Tral while five top militants are roaming around Kellar,” the officer said. 

The militants have also attacked the source base of the security agencies in south Kashmir. In fact, the killing of Gulzar Ahmad Dar alias Khalil — a former militant-turned-source was a major blow to the police and security forces in Kulgam. Sources reveal that the militants have already killed “six to seven sources of police and other security agencies” — a move that has helped militants regroup.