Federal anti-terrorism officials searched the homes and offices of separatist leaders in Kashmir on Saturday as part of an investigation into whether money from Pakistan was being used to fund violent street protests against the Indian government.
In what is the first such crackdown on financing of separatists, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) raided 26 places across Kashmir, Delhi and Haryana, allegedly recovering letterheads of Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), laptops, mobile phones, gold jewellery and more than Rs 2.5 crore in cash.
The early morning swoop saw officials of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the nodal agency to investigate money laundering, joining the raids. “Our teams have raided 18 places in Kashmir and seven in Delhi and one near the Delhi-Haryana border,” said NIA chief Sharad Kumar.
Sources said the locations raided in Old Delhi’s Ballimaran and Chandni Chowk belonged to suspected hawala traders, who helped channel funds from Pakistan-based sources such as LeT and other individuals to separatists.
The raids began after the NIA turned a preliminary enquiry into the sources of funding of separatist leaders such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Naeem Khan and Farooq Ahmed Dar into a first information report (FIR) or a formal investigation.
Reacting to the raids, Geelani said the NIA action was part of a “narrative to defame the freedom movement in Kashmir”. His spokesperson Ayaz Akbar denied any cash had been recovered from them.
“It’s a tactic to pressurise Geelani sahib. It happened in 2002 when one of his sons-in-law was targeted and falsely implicated in cases. Now they are doing it again,’’ said Akbar.
The NIA officers targeted several separatist leaders and businessmen, as well as Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Fantoosh, as they looked for evidence of them receiving funds from Hafiz Saeed, who heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) group, and other Pakistan-based militant outfits.
The agency’s FIR alleged money received from Pakistan was being used to fund violence in the Kashmir, including an operation to increase stone pelting on security forces and arson that largely targeted schools and government buildings.
Violence in the Kashmir valley peaked after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July.
“We have named Pak-based LeT patron Hafiz Saeed, Hurriyat leaders (without specifying their names) and leaders and persons associated with three terror outfits Hizbul Mujahideen, LeT and Dukhtaran-e-Millat as accused in the FIR,” said an NIA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“The names of accused Hurriyat leaders have deliberately been kept unspecified to keep the probe open-ended,” the officer said, referring to an umbrella group of separatists.
NIA sources said more than Rs 85 lakh was recovered from raids in Srinagar alone. They did not reveal details as raids were still on.
Those raided included businessman Zahoor Watali, Shahid-ul-Islam, spokesman of Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Raja Mehrajuddin, the district president of Hurriyat (Geelani) and separatist leaders from both factions of the Hurriyat Conference and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, said sources. Separatists Naeem Khan and Dar were also raided.
Watali is the brother of former DIG Ali Mohammad Watali. Officials were searching his home in the upmarket Sanat Nagar area late into Saturday night.
By: Hindustan Times
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