Jammu and Kashmir police are trying to identify 14 young men in a group photograph that militants released on Sunday and which a senior police officer described a ‘leaderless troupe’.
Two months after last of the active militants who posed in a famous photograph with Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed militants have come out with another group photo of young men posing with rifles which has been widely shared on social media.
While the 11 men in ‘Burhan’s boys’ picture wore camouflage uniforms, the 14 young men in the new picture are mostly wearing blue amid a green background – probably an orchard or a forest area.
The men in the new picture are not known faces and all are suspected to be newly inducted. One of the men’s face appears to match with that of Shams ul Haq Mengnoo, who was given the code name of ‘Burhan, the Second’ by Hizbul.
Mengnoo, who was studying for a Bachelor’s degree in unani medicine in Srinagar and went missing from his home on May 22, is the brother of an Indian Police Service officer posted in the Northeast. Police officials have confirmed his movement with militants.
“We have come across the picture. There are 14 faces and we are identifying the people. Many times militants have also used old pictures,” said a senior police officer dealing with anti-militancy operations.
“Even if the group is new, it can in no way be seen as a comeback of militancy. It is a leaderless troupe. The militants have suffered heavily and the terror initiated violence has come down. They have made isolated attacks on lone security personnel or indulged in grenade attacks,” he said.
The new group photo came just a week after Hizbul flooded the social media with individual pictures of around 18 young men holding guns on the second death anniversary of Burhan Wani on July 8.
Besides Mengnoo, the pictures included that Irfan Rashid Dar, a 22-year-old Special Police Officer (SPO) from Pulwama who went missing along with his service rifle on June 26 and those of two youth from Awantipora, Tawseef Ahmad Thokar, an MSc in Mathematics and Adfar Fayaz. Zahoor Ahmed Mir, a resident of the Kupwara, and a surrendered militant returned to militancy one and a half months ago. Police also confirmed that two others from Handwara – Furkan Rashid Lone and Abdul Gani Khwaja have also joined the militants.
Officials said that 75-80 young men have joined militancy this year while security forces have killed 102 militants in encounters so far in 2018. Sixty eight of them have been killed in south Kashmir. In comparison, 78 militants out of 213 were killed in south Kashmir last year.
Inspector general of police, SP Pani said that they were trying to foil new recruitments. “Our operational grid is intact, we are taking care of the environmental conditions so that the recruitment is adroitly blunted,” he said.
Sunday’s group photo was similar to a photograph through which Wani and his 10 associates had announced their entry into armed insurgency three years ago.
The photograph which went became viral in June 2015, marked a new age for militancy in the region as young militants posed without masks in front of the camera and posted pictures online, in contrast to earlier times when they largely remained hidden. Following the impact of first picture, a few other group photographs and videos of militants had made it to social media from time to time.
Wani was killed in a gunfight with security forces in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district on July 8, 2016, triggering an extended period of protests and stone pelting across Kashmir in which around 100 people were killed in crackdown by security forces.
Saddam Paddar was the last of the 11 militants to be killed in an encounter with security forces on May 6 in Shopian while the lone survivor of the ‘Burhan’s boys’ group, Tariq Pandit is still under arrest after he reportedly surrendered.
The official quoted first in the story said that the new group won’t be that impactful as its predecessor. “They are still in their incubation period. It takes time for them to turn into battle hardened men. We have succeeded in eliminating even more than 10 militants in one go, so we don’t expect any major impact on the ground,” he said.