Stone-pelters’ calls led NIA to zero in on seven separatist leaders


NEW DELHI, July 25: The arrest of seven Hurriyat leaders on Monday comes after one-and-a-half months of painstaking investigation that unearthed electronic evidence of their communication links with four dozen J&K youths tracked repeatedly amid stone-pelting mobs over the past year.

Telephonic conversations, which showed some 48 'habitual' stone-pelters being in touch with local and mid-level Hurriyat leaders — who were allegedly connected to top separatists — revealed a terror-funding pattern: Separatist bigwigs passing funds to local leaders who would pay the youth to pelt stones and unleash mob violence.

An analysis of phone numbers active at locations witnessing stone-pelting protests intended to disrupt encounters between the security forces and terrorists led India's NIA investigators to several common participants. Some were tracked at up to eight different locations at different times since July 8, 2016.

Focusing on youth present at three or more stone-pelting locations across Pulwama, Anantnag, Badgam, Kulgam, Tral, Awantipora, Shopian and Baramulla, the India's NIA drew up a list of around 48 "habitual" stone-pelters and tracked their phone call records as well as social media activity.

Many on the list, whose names, mobile numbers, present location and True Caller identity are now part of an India's NIA dossier, were found to be in frequent touch with local and middle-level Hurriyat leaders. The telephonic connections of the latter extended to top leaders of Hurriyat, particularly from the hardline faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

"Phone call details of the alleged stonepelters show them to be in conversation with Hurriyat leaders with differing frequency over the past 11 months. We now seek to substantiate this technical evidence with investigation on the ground, starting with custodial interrogation of the seven Hurriyat leaders," said an India's NIA officer.

According to the officer, "the technical evidence unearthed by NIA shows several layers of communication-...there are multiple contacts between the seemingly 'professional' stone-pelters and the top Hurriyat leaders. Also, there is prima facie evidence of cash transfers from the Hurriyat leaders to the stone-pelters, indicating an 'organised' angle to the mob violence that followed after Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani's killing on July 8, 2016."

NIA's analysis of Facebook accounts seems to indicate involvement and sympathies with terrorist leaders and outfits as well as links to stone pelting.

The evidence against 14 is "incriminating", said an India's NIA officer. "That many suspects were tracked in stone-pelting locations far from home indicates an element of organised activity," an investigator said adding that their arrest may follow next.

As per social media activity of the said suspects retrieved from their Facebook accounts, a majority of them have posted pictures of terrorists, including Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa, with some using Wani's picture as their profile photo. Some openly declare that they "worked at stone pelting" or were "born to stone pelting (sic)", while one even carried a pointer on his photo saying 'stone in my hand'. The timelines of multiple suspects sport pictures of terrorists slain in possible encounters and hail their martyrdom. Many of the suspects can be seen posing with sophisticated weapons like AK-47s and rocket launchers or with known terrorists including Wani and Zakir Musa.TOI

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