Uncle-nephew duo, arrested twice in past, identified as main attackers on Amarnath pilgrims

The Jammu and Kashmir police have identified an uncle-nephew duo who led the attack on Amarnath pilgrims in Anantnag in South Kashmir on July 10 that resulted in the death of seven of them. According to a top police source, Mohammed Abbas Sheikh and his nephew, Touseef Ahmad Sheikh are believed to have led the attack along with three other terrorists, one of them a Pakistani national.

Both Abbas and Touseef, residents of Qaimoh in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district have been involved in militancy and other criminal activities in the past, including drug trading, cattle smuggling and the smuggling of gold coins. “They are mercenaries of sorts who have been arrested twice in the past for militancy-related acts,” revealed the source. The source claimed they were let off due to “political pressure” but it could not be confirmed immediately what circumstances led to their release. Originally from Lashkar-e-Toiba, the duo is believed to be moving with Hizbul Mujahideen cadre for the past one year.

The source also claimed that the two were involved in a grenade attack on a bus carrying Amarnath pilgrims in Vessu, Anantnag, on July 6 in which one pilgrim died while 15 others were injured. “To avoid communal flareup, the government decided to pass it off as a gas cylinder blast,” revealed the source. But four days later, seven pilgrims were killed in the second attack, which could not be covered up at all.

Minutes after the attack on Monday, the police named the Pakistani terrorist commander of Lashkar-e-Toiba, Abu Ismail, as the mastermind of the attack. But according to top police sources, Ismail has a base in Chadoora in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district and there is no indication of his movement from there.

The police source revealed that they have been under pressure from the state government to not reveal the local hand in the attack. According to him, Abbas and Touseef were provided shelter for night by a man from a certain area in South Kashmir. This area has many men working as truck drivers. “The government fears that once the details of the attack are revealed, truck drivers, many of whom will be inevitably from this area, may be targeted by irate Hindu mobs, especially on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, leading to escalation in tension” the source said.