In a significant development, top security officials on Friday asserted that Pakistani Rangers in Shakargarh area of Punjab’s Narowal district in Pakistan helped four terrorists of proscribed terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) infiltrate into India.

On Thursday, four JeM terrorists were killed in an encounter with security forces on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway. The terrorists, who were hiding in a truck, were killed near the Ban toll plaza on the highway of the union territory in the early hours of Thursday. 

The encounter started after a truck carrying four terrorists from Jammu to Kashmir was intercepted by security forces personnel near the highway. The gunbattle started near Nagrota toll plaza when some terrorists opened fire at police and paramilitary forces. The Army also joined the operation. 

Top sources within the security establishment said on Friday that the terrorists had infiltrated the night before the encounter from Shakargarh sector, just two days after the new moon night. They took the riverine route to reach national highway between Samba and Heeranagar in Jammu & Kashmir. They were picked at around 3.10 am in LP truck filled with rice bags.

The terrorists were helped at the launchpad near Sialkot, Pakistan by one Mohammad Rauf who is believed to be their handler and head of the JeM Sialkot module. Police have got hold of a few phone numbers from the mobile phone recovered with the terrorists and are currently probing the device.

“Shakargarh from where the terrorists have infiltrated is the headquarters of the Pakistani Rangers and hence complicity of the Rangers can’t be ruled out. This is similar to previous cases in the area, same modus operandi except for the fact that the truck used a fake registration number. This will be probed in detail,” a top official probing the JeM activities in the area revealed on condition of anonymity.

Top sources have also revealed a brief exchange of fire at the International border around the route of infiltration that triggered an initial alarm at about midnight, the same time when terrorists sneaked inside Indian territory. Security forces are also looking for a tunnel used by these terrorists to infiltrate in the International Border (IB) area.

Initial investigations have revealed that JeM terrorists wanted to disrupt the forthcoming District Development Council (DDC) polls in the Kashmir valley with a major terror incident. Intelligence agencies had alerted security forces about a possible infiltration bid around Jammu and hence forces were vigilant and on an alert. Experts believe this to be a significant achievement months after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A which had also strengthened the security counter-terror grid.

The operation was led by Jammu and Kashmir Police IG Mukesh Singh who had warned terrorists to surrender or else face the consequences. Within minutes all four terrorists who were hiding in a truck were eliminated. The police have recovered 11 AK-47 rifles, 3 Pistols, 6 UBGL grenades and a mobile phone.

“We had inputs about infiltration by Lashkar and Jaish terrorists from Pakistan, hence we were alert. Never before though has such a huge cache of arms been recovered with infiltrating terrorists. It appears their modus operandi was something big and they were on way to Kashmir valley. The driver of the truck is absconding. Satellite and mobile phones recovered from terrorists are being probed,” IG Jammu Mukesh Singh said after visiting the encounter site.

“When the Valley infiltration is effective and layered in-depth it is inevitable that Jammu becomes the centre and route for sending in human resources and wherewithal to Kashmir. The trans-Pir Panjal networks are quite obviously still in existence although much dented by the good work of the agencies,” said Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, former GOC 15th Corps. “Secondly, the good work by Jammu & Kashmir Police and other security forces is indeed making a difference in ensuring that terror is not rekindled in the Jammu region. This good work must continue in earnest,” he added.

Security forces in 2020 alone have eliminated more than 210 terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. The latest killing of 4 Pakistani terrorists and averting a major terror strike before local DDC polls had encouraged the forces further. 

“It was a clean and professional operation carried out by J&K police with surgical precision. The results of operation in the form of killing of 4 terrorists, recovery of 11 AK rifles with a huge quantity of additional arms, ammunition and equipment, speaks for the success achieved in foiling a big terrorist strike in the valley,” said former J&K DGP Kuldeep Khoda.

Meanwhile, a team of the National Investigative Agency (NIA) has visited the encounter site. Since the case is similar to several such previous attempts by Pakistani terror outfit JeM, the case could be transferred to the NIA. The final call will be taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the next 48 hours.

DGP Jammu Kashmir Police Dilbagh Singh had said, “Terrorists affiliated with JEM group have been killed at Ban toll plaza in Jammu-Kashmir Highway near Nagrota. They infiltrated from Samba Sector. The terrorists lobbed a grenade on security forces during checking.”