- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

JAMMU, India Indian military officials say they have intercepted communications that indicate al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have entered Indian-controlled Kashmir from across the border with Pakistan-based militants.

The Indian army's Northern Command in Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, said it intercepted a radio message believed to be part of an instruction to militant groups operating in Kashmir from their high command across the border.

The message, which was intercepted earlier this month and released to a group of reporters on Saturday, read: "We are sending five new colleagues towards your area. Let them join the old commandos. They belong to Rawalpindi [a city in Pakistan]. Send two al Qaeda colleagues who are with you towards our side along with the driver [guide]."

In Srinagar, the summer capital of the state, a senior army commander who requested anonymity also affirmed the presence of al Qaeda men in Kashmir valley.

"We cannot tell the exact number of those cadres here. But from the radio intercepts we are dead sure al Qaeda cadres are around, and they are hiding in the Indian border districts," he said.

"From surrendered terrorists we knew that last month 75 al Qaeda cadres were on transit at a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen camp in [Pakistan-occupied Kashmir] awaiting orders to infiltrate into India," he added.

An army official in the border town of Rajouri said another intercepted message indicated that an accident in a militant camp in Pakistan last month killed several young recruits being trained in explosive attacks. Two al Qaeda men were among the scores injured in the incident, the official said.

The spokesman at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington denied India's accusations of al Qaeda infiltration into Kashmir.

"These allegations are baseless and are consistent with the pattern of misinformation by India," Asad Hayauddin said.

He said some al Qaeda fighters escaping from Afghanistan have entered Pakistan and are believed to be moving south toward Karachi and other cities.

However, Pakistan has no evidence that the fighters have moved to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, he added.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said during a visit to India in June that al Qaeda militants were operating in Kashmir, but he softened that comment a day later in Pakistan.

"The United States does not have evidence of al Qaeda in Kashmir," he said after meeting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad.

"We do have a good deal of scraps of intelligence that come in from people who say they believe al Qaeda are in Kashmir, or are in various locations," he said. "It tends to be speculative, it is not actionable, it is not verifiable."

"The cooperation between the United States and Pakistan is so close that if there happened to be any actionable intelligence as to al Qaeda anywhere in the country, there isn't a doubt in my mind Pakistan would go find them and deal with them," he said.

Though security forces in Indian Kashmir have not had any confirmed "physical contacts" with al Qaeda members, Indian military sources say several militants gunned down recently by the forces have been of "Arab appearance."

Al Qaeda, headed by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, is believed to have recruited nationals from several Arab countries as fighters.

Indian military officials believe al Qaeda men are in Kashmir to carry out large-scale terrorist attacks when security is eased after elections to the Kashmir legislature end Oct. 8.

Indian military intelligence sources say they learned in July of at least 500 al Qaeda cadres camping in the Gultari sector in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir along the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the two countries. They were believed to have taken shelter there since escaping from Afghanistan late last year.

Indian officials were concerned the al Qaeda men might enter India with Pakistan-based militants armed with sophisticated Chinese-made satellite phones that could evade interception.

According to intelligence sources, India carried out a "surgical" land and air attack on militant camps in Gultari on Aug. 22 while Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage was visiting South Asia.

Despite India's denial, Islamabad said the attack was directed at Pakistani posts and was "successfully" repulsed by Pakistani forces, resulting in "heavy casualties" on the Indian side.

A Jammu and Kashmir government official said that an estimated 2,500 militants are operating in the frontier region of Kashmir. He said 1,800 are foreigners, and at least 110 are Afghans, believed to be from al Qaeda.

When U.S.-led allied forces attacked Afghanistan last year, many of the Pakistan-based jihadi groups battling for the "liberation" of Kashmir were found fighting alongside al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Rohan Gunaratne, a terrorism expert from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, says al Qaeda men had been found operating in Kashmir with Pakistan-based insurgents before the September 11 attacks.

"There is evidence that the al Qaeda has infiltrated three Pakistani and Kashmiri groups: Harkat [ul-Mujahideen], Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. They shared operational training and infrastructure with the al Qaeda in Afghanistan even before September 11," Mr. Gunaratne said while promoting a book on al Qaeda in New Delhi early this month.

He said al Qaeda is believed to have planned to attack the U.S. Embassy in India to coincide with the attacks on U.S. missions in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 that killed more than 250 people.

The operation was disrupted when a Sudanese member of al Qaeda was arrested in New Delhi, he said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide