The Border Security Force (BSF) and Jammu Police on Wednesday detected a 150m long cross-border tunnel at the international border that intelligence agencies believe may have been used by Mohammad Umar Farooq, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar’s nephew, to enter India to execute the February 14, 2019, Pulwama terror attack in which 40 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed.
The tunnel, approximately 100m long on the Indian side and believed to be 50-60m long on the Pakistani side, is suspected to have been used by JeM terrorists to infiltrate India at least four times since April 2018, intelligence officials added on condition of anonymity.
It was the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that mapped Farooq’s route from Pakistan to India using GPS data recovered from his phone, satellite imagery and the interrogation of several suspects.
NIA recovered a video from his phone in which Farooq and others were seen praying at the launchpad just before infiltrating into India in the Shakargarh area.
A counterterrorism official, who did not want to be named, said the information about the tunnel was shared by NIA with central intelligence agencies, BSF, and the Jammu & Kashmir Police in March 2020, and since then, efforts were made to locate it. “However, the terrain and the tall elephant grass on the Pakistani side makes it difficult to detect tunnels at the border,” added this person.
BSF inspector general NS Jamwal gave details of the tunnel to reporters in Jammu on Wednesday: “The tunnel detected along the International Border in Hiranagar sector of Kathua is approx 150m long, [and] proper engineering effort has gone into its construction. It was dug 25 to 30 feet beneath the ground. We have found 10-15 sand bags with Pakistani markings in the tunnel. It seems that it hasn’t been used recently.”
The counterterrorism official said that its possible that JeM may have stopped using the tunnel after Indian investigators cracked the Pulwama case.
Farooq, 24, a skilled bomb-maker trained in hybrid camps of al Qaeda, Taliban, JeM and the Haqqani network inside Afghanistan, is believed to have entered India in April 2018 using this particular tunnel in Hiranagar Sector of Kathua along with four others, including Mohammad Ismail alias Saifullah. He soon took over as the JeM commander of Pulwama, officials said. Farooq was killed in an encounter with the security forces on March 29, 2019, but not before bringing India and Pakistan on the brink of war by executing the deadliest terror attack in the Valley. Saifullah is believed to be the current chief of Jaish in the Valley.
This is third such sophisticated tunnel detected by central agencies since August 29, 2020, in Jammu-Samba Sector. Counterterror and security officials believe these are used for infiltration, the smuggling of arms and ammunition, and also to ferry across money to fund terror strikes.
An intelligence official, who asked not to be named, said Indian agencies have reason to believe that there may be two similar tunnels in the area which need to be detected.
Former BSF director general DK Pathak said: “Ever since we got fencing on the border, Pakistani infiltrators try to dig tunnels that are not clearly visible.”