India: Intensifying Operations in J&K

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The Resistance Front (TRF)-an offshoot of terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)

On May 8, 2024, a ‘deputy commander’ of The Resistance Front (TRF), Momin Mir, was killed by Security Forces (SFs) in the Kulgam District of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

On May 7, 2024, SFs killed two terrorists in an encounter, including a top ‘commander’ of TRF, Basit Dar, and his associate Faheem Ahmed Baba, who was an over ground worker (OGW), in Redwani Payeen village in Kulgam District. According to the police, Basit Dar was a ‘category A terrorist’ and was wanted in at least 18 cases.

On April 11, 2024, SFs killed a TRF terrorist, Danish Sheikh, in a cordon-and-search operation, and recovered arms, ammunition, and incriminating materials in Fressipora village in Pulwama District.

On February 13, 2024, Police arrested a terrorist, Adil Manzoor Langoo, who was directly involved in the TRF sponsored killings of non-local workers from Punjab. On February 7, 2024, terrorists had opened fire on Amritpal Singh and Rohit Masih of Punjab’s Chamyari village, at Shalla Kadal, Shaheed Gunj, in Srinagar District . While Singh died on the spot, Masih succumbed to his injuries on February 8.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, since October 12, 2019, the date of the ‘inception’ of TRF, at least 59 TRF-linked fatalities have been recorded in J&K (data till May 12, 2024).  These include 10 civilians, nine SF personnel and 40 TRF cadres.  Moreover, 77 TRF terrorists have been arrested during this period.

The TRF is an offshoot of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and came into existence as an online entity following the abrogation of Article 370 and revocation of the special status of J&K in August 2019. Its leadership included Sajid Jatt, Sajjad Gul and Salim Rehmani, all associated with LeT. Following a grenade attack in Srinagar’s Hari Singh High Street that left seven civilians injured, TRF declared its arrival on October 12, 2019, via the encrypted chat app Telegram. In its first message, posted on Telegram, taking responsibility for the grenade attack TRF had stated,

Today’s grenade attack is the inception of indigenous resistance of Kashmir to flush out the occupational Indian regime out of IOJK [Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir]. The attack was carried out by our cadres and in future such attacks will follow.

A senior police officer stated in October 2021,

The name TRF was an attempt to secularise the idea of jihad to present the Kashmir insurgency as a political cause rather than a religious war as was manifested by the names such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM).

TRF later evolved into a physical entity with the inclusion of terrorists from various outfits, including the LeT. This group, known for its involvement in numerous acts of terror in J&K, has become a significant challenge for SFs in the region.

In a major attack on September 13, 2023, three SF personnel, Colonel Manpreet Singh, Battalion Commander of 19 Rashtriya Rifles, his company commander Major Aashish Dhonchak and Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Humayun Bhat, were killed, in an encounter with militants of the Falcon Squad of TRF, in the Kokernag Town of Anantnag District, J&K.

Seven civilians were killed in six separate incidents in J&K in a short span of six days between October 2 and 7, 2021. TRF claimed responsibility for all the killings.

On November 26, 2020, TRF terrorists filmed an attack on the Army’s 2 Rashtriya Rifles near Srinagar’s Lawaypora area, in which two soldiers were shown being shot dead from close range and weapons snatched on the Srinagar-Baramulla highway.

A Police source stated, according to an October 9, 2021 report, that TRF’s tactics marked a departure from the post-2016 militancy. He added,

There are no ‘fidayeen’ (suicide) attacks; very little photographs of cadres are available and they choose soft targets through a broad network of ground workers. A new breed of workers has been created who are not in the radar of the security forces, which makes tracking difficult and attacking easy.

TRF has become one of the most active terrorist groups in the recent past. As per J&K Police data for 2022, about 172 terrorists were killed in the Valley, out of which 108 belonged to TRF or LeT, followed by JeM at 35.

Since April 2020, TRF has been under the scanner of government agencies such as the National Investigation Agency (NIA), for its suspected links with LeT:

January 9, 2024: The NIA filed a supplementary charge sheet against three TRF terror operatives, Hilal Yaqoob Deva alias Sethi Soab, Musiab Fayaz Baba alias Shoaib Zarar and a Pakistani national, identified as Habibullah Malik alias Sajid Jutt, for conspiring to unleash terrorist attacks in J&K, including in the Rajouri and Poonch districts.

July 25, 2023: An NIA court issued a non-bailable warrant against Basit Ahmad Dar, an active terrorist of LeT and TRF, who had been evading arrest. NIA stated that the case pertained to the killing of two non-local labourers in October 2021 at Laram Gangi Pora in Kulgam District.

May 15, 2023: The NIA filed a supplementary chargesheet against Faisal Muneer alias Ali Bhai, for conspiring with Pakistan-based operatives of LeT/TRF for transportation of firearms and explosives to carry out terrorist acts in India.

November 9, 2022: The NIA filed a supplementary charge-sheet in a case against the activities of TRF in the NIA Special Court in New Delhi, against accused Muzamil Mushtaq Bhat alias Hamza alias Daniyal, a resident of the Baramulla District of J&K.

Moreover, the NIA has been carrying out raids at multiple locations in J&K from time to time as part of an ongoing investigation into the conspiracy to destabilize J&K by newly-formed offshoots of banned terrorist outfits like TRF. The raids targeted residential premises of hybrid terrorists, OGWs, sympathizers, and cadres associated with these organizations.

Not surprisingly, on January 5, 2023, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) declared TRF a terrorist organisation under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967. Through the notification, the MHA also designated Sheikh Sajjad Gul, a TRF commander, an individual terrorist, under the fourth schedule of the UAPA. The UMHA notification noted,

It is a proxy outfit of terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba and came into existence in 2019. It has been involved in planning of killings of security force personnel and innocent civilians of Jammu and Kashmir, co-ordinating and transporting weapons to support proscribed terrorist organisations, recruitment of terrorists, infiltration of terrorists and smuggling of weapons and narcotics from across the border.

And further,

TRF is recruiting youth through online medium for furtherance of terrorist activities and has been involved in carrying out propaganda on terror activities.

One of the most troubling aspects of TRF’s activities is its targeting of minority communities. On January 8, 2023, TRF threatened the Sikh community in J&K in an open letter, declaring that any Sikh youth found working as Special Police Officers (SPOs) in the J&K Police Department under civilian cover would be deemed a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) agent. They also threatened members of the Sikh community who use religious places as meeting places for political reason. “You must stop such activities, otherwise you will not have a place in Kashmir, we are actively monitoring the situation,” the outfit warned.

On December 15, 2022, TRF, through its ‘Kashmir Fight’ blog, warned that its cadres would turn transit colonies of Kashmiri Pandits into ‘graveyards’ and also threatened contractors involved in the work of constructing these. In February 2023, TRF had threatened to “kill anyone working for the revenue department or whose machines are used” for demolitions during the ‘anti-encroachment’ drive in J&K.

Additional Director General (ADGP) of Police Vijay Kumar stated that TRF was behind the killing of a Kashmiri Pandit identified as Sanjay Sharma on February 26, 2023, in the Achan area of Pulwama District.

On October 7, 2021, TRF militants assassinated two teachers, one Hindu and one Sikh, for asking children to participate in Independence Day functions on August 15.

An intelligence report submitted to security planners in New Delhi in 2020 noted that TRF was controlled by three top LeT handlers in Pakistan and the idea behind TRF was to give terrorism in Kashmir an indigenous face, while also warding off international pressure on Pakistan, particularly from anti-terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that was closely monitoring Islamabad’s activities. The report further disclosed, “TRF is being controlled from Pakistan by top three Lashkar handlers: Sajad Jatt for South Kashmir, Khalid for Central Kashmir and Hanzala Adnan for North Kashmir.”

Within a short period of time TRF, through its violent activities, has established itself as a prominent terrorist formation in J&K. The outfit has proclaimed itself as a secular organization fighting against the Indian government for the freedom of Kashmir, in contrast to earlier Kashmiri militant organisations, which professed an Islamist separatist ideology. TRF has adopted new and high-risk tactics to bring a greater element of surprise to target SFs in a situation where the SFs had established near-complete control in J&K. The recent killings of TRF cadres by SFs is likely to substantially restore state dominance on the ground.

Afsara Shaheen

Afsara Shaheen is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, India

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