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Mustaq Ahmed Zargar: Released in exchange during IC814 hijack comes back as mastermind of Anantnag attack

Mustaq Ahmed Zargar @ Latrum s/o GR. Rasool Zargar, r/o Jamia Masjid, Goni Mohalla, Srinagar studied upto 4th class and then learnt to operate Lathe machine and worked in a shop till 1985. According to him, in 1985, during curfew, while he was going on the road, he was picked up by the police and he remained in jail and was released after a month. His father expired while he was in jail. After release he again started operating lathe machine. During detention in Central Jail, Srinagar he came in contact with Zahoor Ahmed Sheikh, Mukhtiar Ahmed Baba and Mukhtiar Ahmed Sufi Ali, r/o Anantnag who had contacts with People’s League and he took interest in that party. After release from the jail, he started attending the meetings of the party.In 1988, one day he came across said Zahoor Ahmed Sheikh near Lal Chowk, Srinagar, who asked him whether he is interested in having training in arms etc.across the border for subversive activities in India. He readily agreed. He told about this to his neighbour Irfan-ul-Hassan and asked him whether he was also interested in this. He also agreed.

2/3 days later during the same month August 1988, he alongwith Irfan Ul Hasaan met Zahoor Ahmed Sheikh near Lal Chowk who took both of them to the house of Ghulam Nabi Bhatt r/o Trehgam, Distt Kupwara (real younger brother of KLF founder leader Maqbool Bhatt. who was lodged in Tihar Central Jail, New Delhi during 1982-83). They stayed for the night with Gh. Nabi Bhatt at Trehgam whereas Zahoor Ahmed Sheikh left in the evening for Anantnag.

Next morning Gh. Nabi Bhatt detailed his younger brother Zahoor Bhatt to take and hand over them to Ghulam Nabi, guide at Rashanpura (Kupwara). Accordingly they were taken and handed over to the guide who took them to Muzaffarabad (POK) and there to the house of Raja Musaffar, a JKLF leader.  All of them stayed there for 2 nights. Then Raja Musaffar detailed a youth to take them to Rawalpindi (POK). The said person took them to the house of Dr. Farooq Haider, another JKLF whip, in Rawalpindi. There they met Amsa Ulla Khan and Rashid Hasrat who arranged for their training.  They were taken in a closed jeep by persons. Front seat was occupied by one Assad besides the driver. After 4/5 hrs. of journey by jeep they reached a training camp comprising of 3-4 tents.  One tent was used as a kitchen, the 2nd was occupied by the Instructors and the 3rd was allotted to them.

In that camp they were given 7 days training in assembling, dissembling, and familiarization of components of AK 47 rifles, LMG and  pistol. After 7 days training they were escorted back to Rawalpindi to Farooq Haidar’s house. After night’s stay there they were sent  back to Raja Muzaffar’s house at Muzaffarabad (POK).  From there they were taken to Attmujim (POK) to the house of Gh. Mohd Wani with one  sack bag each containing arms and ammunitions which included 2 AK – 47 rifles with 4 magazines, 400 cartridges, by the guide Ghulam Nabi.  Then they were taken to the LAC by the guide who had one AK-47 rifle. Bread for enroute consumption was also taken. They crossed the Line of Control and reached Rashanpura, Distt. Kupwara. The guide took one sack of arms and ammunitions from them and told them to deliver the rest to  Mohd. Nagbool Bhatt. He told them to catch the bus for Srinagar and accordingly they reached the road and then by bus to Srinagar. 2 days later  Ghulam Nabi Bhatt’s younger brother Zahoor Ahmed Bhatt reached  Batmaloo and on instruction from him, they delivered the remaining 2 bags to him.

After about 2 months, probably on 16.10.1988, after motivating Zahid Ahmed, r/o Zaina Kadal and Mukhtiar Ahmed r/o Magdoom Sahib near Hari Parbat, Srinagar for undergoing arms and subversive activities training in Pak, Mohd. Zargar entrusted both of them to Zahoor Ahmed Bhatt who sent them across the border through the guide. After receiving the training, while they were crossing the border in December 1988, they were nabbed by the security forces alongwith the arms and ammunitions.

In March/April 1989 ( during the Holy month of Ramzan) Zahoor Ahmed Bhatt met him and Irfan at Idgah Srinagar. Ashfaq Najid Wani,  Javed Ahmed Mir,  Mohd Yaseen Nasik and Abdul Namid Sheikh  were there. There was a discussion that the Congress and the National Conference parties were thinking that the militants will not be able to indulge in any such activities and they finally decided  to fire shots in the air the next day which was a Friday, in Khanyar and Nohatta areas to convince their ability to do whatsoever they wanted to do.  Accordingly on Friday they fired shots in the air from Jama Masjid, Nohatta and in Khanyar area.  The people assembled for offering prayer, on seeing this and in support of that danced, lifted them up and shouted slogan “Hum Naya Chahte hain, Azadi” etc.  The police personnel  also fired shots from their positions and therefore they escaped from there.

On Id-ul-Fitre day in May 1989 he alongwith Irfan, Shabir Ahmed Biedu, Tariq Ahmed r/o Soura, Mustaq Ahmed Khan, r/o Naid Kadal, Shoukat Ahmed Bakshi, r/o Batmaloo contacted Zahoor Ahmed Bhatt r/o Trehgam and told him about the firing incident and wanted to cross the border to escape from the police. He entrusted them to the guide who took them across the border through Uri sector and they reached Distt. Bagh (POK). He contacted  Raja Muzaffar at Muzaffarabad (POK) on telephone and told him about the youth brought from the valley and they took tea in a stall in Bagh bazaar. After sometime Raja Muzaffar came and took them to his house and sent Shabir Ahmed Biedu, Tariq Ahmed, Mushtaq Ahmed Khan and Shoukat Ahmed Bakshi for undergoing training in the camp in handling arms and ammunition. Zargar and Irfan stayed with him for about 10 days. On return of those persons from the camp, Raja Muzaffar gave two AK-47 rifles, 2 pistols to them and sent them with guide Sher  Khan who brought them via Mendhar and then by bus to Jammu. They stayed in a hotel whereas Sher Khan went back. Next day they reached Srinagar by a taxi.

In the same month, 2-3 days after Id, in July 1989, Irfan was nabbed at Khanyar by the security forces and the 2 bags of arms and ammunitions brought by them were also seized. Zargar managed to evade till September and then he alongwith Shabir Ahmed Biedu, Latif Ahmed Khan r/o Nawa Kadal and Manzoor Ahmed Khan r/o  Khanyar contacted Zahoor Bhatt who entrusted them to guides Rashid Khan and Gulzar r/o Kupwara. The guides took them through Shallu Bhatt, Distt. Kupwara and crossed the LAC  to Boodh Nihal (PAK). Boarding bus from there they reached the house of  Raja Muzaffar at Muzaffarabad (POK).  The latter introduced them to Col. Assad and Maj. Tariq (both ISI officers).  They narrated about arrest of Irfan. Raja Muzaffar told them that they will be supplied with more weapons. Zargar and Shabir Ahmed Biedu stayed there whereas Latif Ahmed Khan and Manzoor Ahmed were sent to the camp for training. On their return, Raja Muzaffar gave four AK -47 rifles, 4 pistols and 200 cartridges  for each weapons which were put in bags.  Carrying the same, escorted by guides Rashid Khan and Gulzar, they  crossed over to India via Shallu  Bhatt and reached Srinagar. The weapons etc. were kept with Mansoor Ahmed, except one pistol each which they kept with them.

In Jan 1990, couple of weeks after abduction of  Dr. Rubaiya Sayeed (d/o the then  Union Home Minister Mufti Mohd. Sayeed) for which JKLF had owned the responsibility, Zargar and Shabir happened to meet Javed Ahmed Mir r/o Zander Mohalla, Habba Kadal and Ashfaq Majid Wani of Maharaja Bazar. They told Zargar about having claimed responsibility for the abduction and issued press release demanding release of five of their activists Sher Khan, Javed Ahmed Zarger, Nor Mohd. Kadwal,  Altaf Ahmed Bhatt and Abdul Hanif Sheikh in lieu of her release. Zargar abused them for not including the name of Irfan and asked them to include Irfan’s name but they refused. On this, Zargar told them that he will not work with or for them.  Thereafter, Zargar alongwith Shabir Ahmed Biedu, Tariq Ahmed, Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, Latif Ahmed Khan, Muzaffar Ahmed Sofi r/o Anantnag floated independent militant group and named it as “Al Umar Muzahiddin”. They wanted to increase their strength and therefore, he alongwith 16 members crossed over to Pakistan with the assistance of guides Ahmed Shah and Rashid via Shallu Bhatt during Feb 1990. Zargar told the guides about the split with JKLF and forming of a new outfit. The guides took them to Chehlpul, Muzaffarabad (POK). Zargar contacted Maj. Tariq of ISI and informed him about this and about the 16 new recruits. Maj. Tariq assured help, paid Rs. 5000/- in Pak currency and accommodated them there in a house. Next day, Maj. Tariq sent the 16 associates for training. Zargar locked the house and went and stayed with Maqbool Illahi at Muzaffarabad (POK) who was known to him. On arrival of those 16 associates, they stayed in the house arranged by Maj. Tariq. By then due to tight security checking at the LOC they could not cross over and stayed there. They celebrated Id-Ul-Fitre at Chehlpul and stayed on there. Many of the youth undergoing training at Muzaffarabad joined Zargar’s outfit there and their strength went upto 35.  One day in July 1990 Maj. Tariq of ISI visited them and gave Rs. 20000/- which included Rs 10000/- Indian and Rs. 10000/- Pakistan currency for purchasing necessary items and they purchased the same. In the same month Zargar with 35 associates crossed the LOC via Lipa valley and reached Handwara. The guide introduced them to Ghulam Nabi Waza r/o Handwara.  From across they had brought with them arms and ammunitions including 26 AK-47 rifles, 2 LMGs, 30 Pistols, 30 grenades, 10 Walkie- talkie sets which they kept with Waza as advised by the guide for safe keeping. They visited Mohd. Afzal’s house, who was friend of  Shabir Biedu. After sometime Shabir also came there and Zargar told him everything when Shabir asked Waza about the weapons. Waza told them to go after 2-3 days and collect the weapons etc. and then he went away.

2 days later Zargar sent Khalid Bashir r/o Biaripura to bring the weapons etc. and he went in a truck and brought some of them to Mohd. Afzal’s house. About 2/3 days later Tariq r/o Habba Kadal was nabbed by Army personnel, on whose tip off Army raided Mohd Afzal’s house to nab Zargar and others but they managed to escape. But the Army succeeded in recovering the remaining arms and ammunitions which included 19 AK-47 rifles,  2 LMGs, 30 grenades, 10 Walkie- Talkie sets. Mohd. Afzal was not there and on coming to know of the raid, he also absconded.

Keeping the re-organisation of the outfit in mind, after discussions, Zargar appointed Shabir Ahmed Beidu and Tariq as Dy. Chiefs of AL Umar, Sajjad Ahmed Kachru r/o Ali Kodal as Finance controller,  Idris Khan r/o Qahwa Mohalla, Khanyar as Intelligence chief, Shabir Hussain Khan code name Bitta Khan r/o Saj Giripura Square as Military Adviser, Prof. Tariq r/o Biaripura as Publicity chief of Al Umar and Muzaffar Sofi r/o Anantnag as Distt. Commander of Al Umar, Distt. Anantnag.  Thereafter a meeting was convened for discussing about the arms and ammunitions brought from across which had been seized by the Army and the need to procure more weapons. As agreed Shabir Ahmed  accompanied by Tariq and three others of Saura crossed over to Pakistan for getting arms.

Mohd. Afzal requested Zargar to include him in the outfit but Zargar refused stating that he is a family man and will not be able to function as a militant and keep away from his family for days together. Two weeks later in Oct. 1990 Shabir Ahmed with 30 youth including the four associates he had taken along with him came back via Kangru with 22 AK 47 rifles, three LMGs and three rocket launchers. Mohd. Afzal complained to Shabir Ahmed about Zargar’s  refusal to take him. Shabir compelled Zargar to include Mohd. Afzal but Zargar did not agree. On this Shabir Ahmed declared that he will form a separate outfit and thereon  alongwith the 30 Pakistan trained militants who came with him formed an outfit named  Al Umar Commandos and also retained the remaining arms and ammunitions smuggled from across the border.

In Nov. 1990, Zargar sent Naeem- ul–Haq, r/o Chhota Bazaar, Habba Kadal, Srinagar code named as Naeem to Pakistan with a letter to Col. Assad and Maj. Tariq of ISI informing about the loss of arms and ammunitions given by them due to Army raids and requesting to supply more arms etc. to the outfit. A month later Naeem came back  after getting training and alongwith 30 more trained Pakistani militants. He expressed a desire to open a unit of the outfit in POK so that they could get more Pakistan trained militants and weapons etc. Zargar readily agreed and 2-3 days later, Naeem crossed over to POK.

In the beginning of January 1991, while Zargar alongwith Tariq Ahmed Sheikh r/o Mahrajganj, Srinagar and Mushtaq Ahmed Khan r/o Naid Kadal was walking around Jama Masjid, he saw  Farooq Ahmed Khan r/o Mir Mohalla, Jama Masjid, whom he did not like and he fired at him with his pistol injuring him in his leg and they escaped from there.Two days later on the instructions of Shabir Hussain @ Betta Khan, the Al Umar Military Adviser, both Tariq Ahmed Sheikh and Nazir Ahmed Tani r/o Chhota Bazar, Habba Kadal, Srinagar strapped an explosive device on Qasim Billa r/o Habba Kadal, a police informer which exploded and Qasim Billa died on the spot. Zargar and his other associates came to know of this next day from the news papers. The outfit owned responsibility for this.

Few days after, when Zargar and few associates were walking near Jama Masjid,a woman aged about 30/32 years wanted to talk to him. A boy aged about 10/11 years was also with her. When Zargar went to her, she told him that one person has been harassing her but she felt shy to explain it. Then the boy told Zargar that Mohd. Syed Koasa r/o Nohatta, Srinagar, taking advantage of her strained relationship with her husband, had allured her assuring of better life in case she eloped with him and thus took her to a room and had sex with her which was secretly videographed by Koasa. Using that video, the said person has been blackmailing her and forcing her to have sex with him. On hearing this, Zargar was enraged and promised the woman that the said person will be taught a lesson so that in future none may dare to outrage the modesty of a female. Getting this assurance, the woman and the boy went away. Zargar discussed this matter with Betta Khan and then told him to nab and produce the said Koasa before him at their hide out in a Kashmiri Pandit’s abandoned house in Mohalla Rainwari. As directed, Shabir Hussain Khan @ Betta Khan nabbed and produced the said Koasa before him. Zargar had told his associates about this. When questioned, Koasa denied these allegations eventhough he was tortured. Then Zargar asked his associates to leave Koasa and he went and sat by his side, gave him a cigarette, a cup of tea and told him about his connections with Maulvi Farooq’s Action Committee and promised to save him if he tells the truth, otherwise he will get severe punishment. On this promise, Koasa confessed his crimes of alluring women and girls and indulging in sex with them, preparing porn videos of sexual intercourse with them in different compromising positions.  He also disclosed the place where he had concealed the said video cassettes. Zargar asked Shabir Hussain Khan @ Betta Khan to go to that place with Koasa, search and bring all those cassettes. Accordingly Betta Khan with some associates went with Koasa and brought the cassettes, TV and the VCR. The cassettes were viewed by them which showed that Koasa was indulging in such illegal activities with women and girls including the women who has complained and also the said boy. They felt that Koasa needs to be eliminated but wanted to seek the opinion of Maulvi, after discussions. Accordingly Betta Khan was sent to Maulvi to ascertain the adequate punishment to be given to Koasa according to the doctrin of Quran. On return, they conveyed the advice of Maulvi that according to Islamic law Koasa deserves death penalty. Zargar ordered to execute Koasa which was carried out by Betta Khan and associates at a place with a pistol.

During April 1991, some days before Id-ul-Fitre, Jamshed Khan r/o near Jamia college, Newal, Srinagar, Chief of Al Madad-Yalgar Ali (militant outfit) was kidnapped by JKLF activists to compel him to disband his outfit and merge with some other outfit. Zargar discussed this with Noor Mohd. Nalwal, the then Dy. Chief of JKLF out fit, near Jama Masjid. Zargar asked Nalwal to free Jamshed Khan and allow him to merge with any outfit of his choice after release. Nalwal agreed and the next day Jamshed Khan was released by the JKLF. About two day of his release, Jamshed Khan met Zargar and offered to merge with Al- Umar which was welcomed by Zargar. Accordingly, Jamshed Khan along with 20/25 associates merged with Al-Umar with their arms and ammunition which included 16 rifles, a rocket launcher. Zargar gave the weapons to Betta Khan who distributed them. Jamshed Khan was inducted as one of the Dy. Chiefs of Al-Umar.

On last Friday preceding Id-ul-Fitre (April, 1991)  accompanied by  Idris Khan, Khalid r/o Biaripura and Latif r/o Nawa Kadal, Zargar went to Palpade near Bemina Police colony, in order to see Hassan Dar, the then Chief of  HM militant out fit. Members of HM had seized weapons from Al- Umar members in Rural areas by force and Zargar had protested. Al-Umar’s strength was less in rural areas and more in Srinagar, compared to Hizbul Mujahiddin. Hassan Dar had asked Zargar to meet him at that place to sort out this problem. When they met Zargar warned Dar that if they continue to do that, then Al- Umar will seize weapons from HM militants in Srinagar. On hearing this, Hassan Dar assured not to repeat such things as they felt that fight between two groups will not be in the interest of militancy.  Same evening on return to Jama Masjid, Zargar learnt that his men headed by Shabir Khan @ Betta Khan, Military adviser   had attempted to kidnap Divisional Commander, Kashmir, Shri Wajahat Habib Ulla from Jama Masjid area but failed in view of  police encounter resulting in the death of police official and injury to 2 private persons. Zargar was angry as it was not planned by them  and therefore  expelled  Manzoor Ahmed @ Jag, r/o Jamia Masjid and Shofait of Rajouri Kadal but kept in abeyance any action against Shabir Khan, the Military Adviser.

About one month later, after Id-ul-Zuha in August 1991, under orders from Shabir Hussain Khan @ Betta Khan, the Military Adviser, Shofait r/o Zaina Kadal and Manzoor of Chanyar entered the house of Shafi  Pir,ex- MLA( NC) r/o Lal Bazar, Srinagar and shot him dead firing shots from their pistols. He was on the outfits hit list. After the incident Shabir Hussain @ Betta Khan, the military adviser  reported to Zargar about this.

In the middle of  Sep. 1991, after Id-ul-Zuha, Shabir Hussain Khan @ Betta Khan ordered G. Gandhru, r/o Hazrat Bal Shrine, Srinagar to kill Shiekh Sadiq, ex- MLA of the same locality, cousin of NC Chief Dr. Farooq Abdulla as he was on the hitlist of Al- Umar. Accordingly G. Gandhru shot dead Sheikh Sadiq and the outfit Al Umar owned the killing and a press note was also released to the press. In the end of  Sept/beginning of Oct. 1991, G. Gandhru, Group Commander, Al Umar with some outfit activists as per dictum of Shabir Hussain Khan @ Betta Khan way- laid and shot dead Hussain Din, NC MLA r/o Hazrat Bal outside his home and Al Umar claimed responsibility and issued  a press release.

In Oct. 1994 Al Umar military adviser Shabir Hussain Khan @ Betta Khan shot dead  Nake Waza @ Rias, the MLF activist, r/o Nawal, Srinagar for his extra-marital relations and having an affair with a girl of his locality.  Al Umar claimed the responsibility by issuing a press note.

Thereafter during those days when negotiation were on for securing release of  Shri Dorai Swami, the ONGC Chairman and in lieu of his release militants were released including Javed Shalla, chief of Akhman-ul Musalmaan ; Jaja Waza code name Wajid Javed, Military adviser of that outfit was unhappy and joined Al-Umar. Zargar appointed him as Military Adviser replacing Bitta Khan as action against him was kept in abeyance earlier. Bitta Khan was named as Dy. Intelligence Chief.

About 5/6 days thereafter, on the orders of Zargar, Kobari @ Khali Mumtaz, r/o Saribal, Lal Chowk, Srinagar, the district Commander of  Al Umar, Srinagar with others of the outfit kidnapped Tasadaq Dev, r/o Haider Pura.  Two days after, Shri Purna Nand, Dy. SP was kidnapped. Nazir Siddiqi r/o Camurwari, a mediator contacted Zargar for release of the Dy.SP against release of 4/5 militants. Thinking that the Dy. SP is a VIP, Zargar did not release him.About one month later, they kidnapped Hamid Ulla Khan’s (Governor’s Advisor) younger brother Mohd. Shafi Khan from his house in Anantnag. About a month later the security forces (army) conducted a crack down operation in Chak Dhara area, where Al-Umar was active, during which the Dy. SP escaped.

About 10/15 days later, Nazir Siddiqi acting as mediator negotiated for the release of Hamid Ulla Khan’s brother Moh. Shofi Khan and accordingly Zargar released him and in lieu of that 7 militants including Mazaffar Shofi of Anantnag, Manzoor Ahmed Khan of Baramullah, Altaf Ahmed Bakhei of Handwar, Latif Ahmed Shalla of Saraf Kadal, Manzoor Ahmed Wani of Nohatta and Shakeel Ahmed Mathi r/o Saffi Kadal were released from Jail. There were gang war between Al-Umar and JKLF and shoot-outs and deaths on both sides. The Masjid intervened and there was a cease –fire.

During same month, i.e.March 1992 they kidnapped Prof. Sharma of Srinagar University and shifted him to Anantnag and handed over to Tariq, Distt. President of Al-Umar for safe custory. 2 days later they kidnapped Professor of Regional Engineering College, Srinagar and kept him in custody in Anantnag.

On 14/15-05-1992 when Zargar and Riaz Ahmed @ Lala were sitting in the park of Jamia Masjid,  Azad Ahmed @ Piran r/o Sraf Kadal, came there and met him . He invited Zargar for dinner. After sometime, Zargar came across Qayoom Dar, Azad Ahmed Wani r/o Pora near Jamia Masjid. Alongwith them, Zargar went to the house of Azad Ahmed around 8 pm. They had meals there. In the meantime Javed Ahmed and Latif Ahmed Shalla came there. After meals, around 11.30 pm, while Zargar was offering prayers, BSF personnel  cordoned off Azad Ahmed @ Piran’s house, raided the place and nabbed all of them namely Zargar, Riaz Ahmed Shah @ Lala, Qayoom Dar, Azad Ahmed Wani and Azad Ahmed @ Piran whereas Javed Ahmed and Latif  Ahmed managed to  escape. They were blind folded and taken to Shahnaz Hotel. The BSF personnel did not know who was Zargar. When asked, Zargar gave his name as Fiaz Ahmed r/o Saffa Kadal taking the clue from Piran who pointed out Zargar as his brother-in-law  Fiaz Ahmed.

Next morning they were taken to Interrogation centre and interrogated. During interrogation they identified Zargar and they were happy that they have captured Al-Umar chief Mushtaq Latram.  Senior officers promised to lodge Zargar in Central Jail, Srinagar if he directs for the release of those kidnapped by the out fit. Ashraf @ Lally Zargar was brought by the police and later on mother of Zargar was also brought so that the message for the release could be sent by Zargar to his men. Accordingly, Idris and Iqbal Zargar, released those in their custody. Zargar remained in the Interrogation centre and thereafter in JIC, Srinagar and thereafter shifted to Kot Bhalwal in Jammu.

The above background of the 3 persons, as disclosed by them earlier, shows their importance and clarifies why the hijackers wanted their  release in exchange of the hostages and the aircraft. It will be of interest to the public to know these details. This will definitely pose a question whether we are alert in this country? Whether our  Intelligence agencies were aware of these activities of the militants. It is because of their contribution to militancy that these 3 were selected to be released. Maulana was to be released but the other 2 were selected out of the remaining 35. It is clear that the hijackers had a big list from which they selected these 35 names besides that of Maulana Massod Azhar.

(The author  – M. Narayanan – is a former joint  director of CBI and is also the author of the book—Voice of CBI and worked in the terrorist cell of CBI during 1980s-1990s and onwards and handled large number of terrorist cases in the CBI. The article comes out of his experiences in the field and recollections. The views expressed by the author are personal)

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