Jihadist suicide bomber kills dozens of Indian troops in largest attack in Kashmir in decades

More than 40 Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel have died as a result of a car bombing reportedly carried out by the Pakistan-supported Jaish-e-Mohammad in city of Pulwama, near Srinagar, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The attack is the deadliest in decades for a region fraught with constant and often violent struggles. Jaish-e-Mohammad is part of a syndicate of terror groups allied with al Qaeda and supported by the Pakistani state.

The Hindustan Times noted that the blast killed 44 Indian security personnel and injured at least 20 more. Indian authorities wasted no time blaming the Pakistani-backed terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) for the blast. The US State Department also implicated JeM in the attack, noting that the group claimed credit for the bombing.

“The UN designated, Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for this heinous act,” a State press statement that condemned the attack noted.

According to local reports, JeM released a 10-minute video statement shortly after the blast to claim credit. The video reportedly identified the driver of the vehicle as Adil Ahmad Dur and touted that the vehicle was packed with 770 pounds of explosives. No other sources have confirmed a payload that large.

FDD’s Long War Journal could not independently verify the content in the video, but images surfacing from it do show the Jaish-e-Mohammad flag behind the individual who claims to be Adil Ahmad Dur, the driver.

Local reports revealed that Indian CRPF personnel were traveling in a convoy of over 70 vehicles when Ahmad Dur’s SUV, loaded with explosives, rammed into a bus in the convoy and detonated. Indian sources reported that other JeM militants fired upon the convoy during the attack to give their driver cover and prevent aid from reaching the devastated bus.

While yesterday’s number of Indian personnel casualties is the highest in decades from a single attack, data from India’s Ministry of Home Affairs shows the bombing was part of a rising trend of terrorist incidents in the region. The Ministry’s data tallied 618 “terrorist incidents” in the Jammu and Kashmir region last year–nearly triple the amount from 2015 (208).

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs released a statement of condemnation following the blast and quickly pointed the finger at Pakistan’s role in harboring JeM members who perpetuated the assault. “This terror group is led by the international terrorist Masood Azhar, who has been given full freedom by Government of Pakistan to operate and expand his terror infrastructure in territories under the control of Pakistan … We demand that Pakistan stop supporting terrorists and terror groups operating from their territory and dismantle the infrastructure operated by terrorist outfits to launch attacks in other countries.”

Officials across the world have decried the attack as a vile act of terrorism.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter calling the attack “despicable” and stated that “the sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain.” Indian news outlets, as well as the Indian general public on Twitter, have been referencing a desire for “surgical strikes” inside Pakistan as a response to the blast, reminiscent of Modi’s actions following the 2016 attack on an Indian army base in Uri, which India also blamed on JeM.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs defended itself in a press release yesterday stating, “We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian government and media circles that seek to link the attack to the State of Pakistan without investigations.”

Pakistan continues to shelter JeM

The US government has listed Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Its leader, Masood Azhar, and his brother, Abdul Rauf Azhar, are also listed as specially designated global terrorists for their ties to al Qaeda and other jihadist groups that operate in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

Azhar is a veteran jihadist who trained at the same religious seminary as Afghanistan Taliban founder and former emir leader Mullah Omar. Azhar was captured by the Indian government in 1994 and imprisoned for terrorist activities. He was released from an Indian jail along with Omar Saeed Sheikh in exchange for hostages held in an Indian Airlines flight hijacking in Dec. 1999 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. His brother, Mohammed Ibrahim Athar Alvi, took part in the hijacking.

Azhar established Jaish-e-Mohammed the next year as an offshoot of the Harkat-ul-Ansar (or Harakat-ul-Mujahideen), one of many terror groups created with the help of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to fight the Indians in Jammu and Kashmir.

JeM, along with Lashkar-e-Taiba, are two of the most influential terror groups within the Pakistani-government supported United Jihad Council (UJC), an umbrella organization that organizes and supports the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir. UJC is led by Hizbul Mujahideen emir Syed Salahuddin. The US listed Hizbul Mujahideen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and Salahuddin as Specially Designated Global Terrorist in Aug. 2017. Predictably, and in a demonstration of Pakistan’s support for jihadist groups, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs objected to the designation.

Pakistan’s military and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate also supports JeM because it is hostile to India and wages jihad in Afghanistan. In its 2010 designation of Azhar, the US Treasury Department said that “JeM recruitment posters in Pakistan contained a call from Azhar for volunteers to join the fight in Afghanistan against Western forces.”

JeM has been involved in multiple large-scale attacks inside India, and has collaborated with other Pakistan-backed terror groups. JeM was implicated along with the Lashkar-e-Taiba as being behind the Dec. 13, 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament building in New Delhi. Sheikh Ahmed Saeed Omar, a close associate of JeM emir Azhar, was behind the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Pearl was later beheaded.

More recently, Indian officials implicated JeM in the Jan. 2016 assault on Pathankot Air Force Base in India, and the Sept. 2016 attack on a military base in Uri. Like other attacks, Indian intelligence intercepted a phone call of Pakistan-based handlers directing the assault team as they attacked the base.

Some of Jaish-e-Mohammed’s top leaders have integrated with the global terror movement. Elements of Jaish-e-Mohammed have joined al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS, the newest regional branch of the global jihadist group, which was formed by al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri in September 2014.

Despite JeM’s terrorist activities, Pakistan has not taken action against the group. India has made repeated requests for extradition of Azhar, only to be ignored.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal. Phil Hegseth is a social and digital media specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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