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Kashmir cleric Mirwaiz Farooq’s killers arrested after 33 years in hiding

File photo of Mirwaiz Farooq

In a significant development in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Union Territory Police’s State Investigation Agency (SIA) has tracked down and arrested two absconding assassins of the prominent Muslim cleric, Mirwaiz Maulvi Mohammad Farooq, 33 years after their hiding in Pakistan and Nepal.

A politico-religious leader and Chairman of Awami Action Committee (AAC), Mirwaiz Maulvi Mohammad Farooq, whose seat of influence was at the historic Jamia Masjid of Srinagar, was shot dead allegedly by the terrorists of Hizbul Mujahideen at his home, at Nageen Hazratbal, on 21 May 1990. In 1986-1989, Mirwaiz, with two of his MLAs, was a part of the National Conference-Congress coalition headed by Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah and patronised by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Special Director General of Police CID, Rashmi Ranjan Swain, said at a news conference in Srinagar on Tuesday that two of Mirwaiz Farooq’s assassins, namely Javed Ahmad Bhat aka Ajmal Khan of Solina Bala, who lived at Azad Basti Natipora, and Zahoor Ahmad Bhat aka Bilal of Dandarkhah Batmaloo, Srinagar, had been tracked down and arrested and subsequently handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Swain said that the SIA arrested the duo, both proclaimed offenders of a TADA court, in an intelligence operation. A special team of the CBI flew in from New Delhi and took the accused into custody. He said that 5 terrorists of Hizbul Mujahideen—Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo, Mohammad Ayub Dar aka Ishfaq, Abdul Rehman Shigan aka Inayat, Javed Ahmad Bhat aka Ajmal Khan and Zahoor Ahmad Bhat aka Bilal—had planned and executed Mirwaiz Farooq’s assassination.

Of the five accused, the main conspirator Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo was killed in an encounter with security forces in June 1990. Abdul Rehman Shigan aka Inayat was also killed in an encounter. The CBI conducted an investigation and filed a charge sheet against the accused. Mohammad Ayub Dar aka Ishfaq of Rawalpora Srinagar was arrested, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court. Later, he challenged the sentence but it was upheld by the Supreme Court of India in Criminal Appeal No: 535 of 2009 on 21 July 2010. He is serving life imprisonment in Srinagar Central Jail.

Swain said that Javed Ahmad Bhat aka Ajmal Khan and Zahoor Ahmad Bhat aka Bilal managed to escape and went into hiding. They were subsequently declared as proclaimed offenders but remained absconding for a long time in Pakistan and Nepal. A few years back, they surreptitiously returned to Srinagar and continued into hiding. However, they were traced by the SIA and arrested.

Immediately after the high-profile assassination, case FIR No: 61/1990 was filed at Police Station Nageen, Srinagar. However, on 11 June, 1990, the investigation was assigned to the CBI which filed case RC 0501990S008. Swain said that Javed Ahmad Bhat and Zahoor Ahmad Bhat, who pulled the trigger, would now face trial in the CBI case.

Quoting the CBI investigation, Swain said that the then Hizbul Mujahideen chief Bangroo viewed Mirwaiz as a ‘peacenik and Indian agent’. He planned the cleric’s assassination with his four associates as per the instructions he received from his Pakistan-based ISI handlers in April 1990.

In the middle of May 1990, Mohammad Ayub Dar aka Ishfaq and Abdul Rehman Shigan also known as Inayat visited the residence of Moulvi Farooq at Nageen and requested financial help for their organisation, Hizbul Mujahideen. Mirwaiz asked them to return to him in 2-3 days. They shared the details of their reconnaissance with Javed Ahmad Bhat aka Ajmal Khan.

On 21 May, 1990, Mohammad Ayub Dar aka Ishfaq, Abdul Rehamn Shigan and Zahoor Ahmad Bhat (also known as Bilal and Jana), reached Mirwaiz Farooq’s residence. While his two associates took positions to provide cover, Zahoor Ahmad Bhat aka Bilal reached Mirwaiz in his office room through gardener Ghulam Qadir Sofi and Personal Assistant Mohammad Sayeed-ur-Rehman Shams. Zahoor opened fire from his loaded pistol and shot dead Mirwaiz Farooq.

Even as gardener Sofi chased them, all the three terrorists managed to escape towards the University of Kashmir and later reached their hideout at Chatargam. Thereafter they reported the accomplishment of their task to Bangroo who advised them to go underground.

Swain said that with the arrest of the last two accused after 33 years, the investigation into the assassination of Mirwaiz Farooq had reached its conclusion. He said that through the trial, both the accused would be brought to justice.

Mirwaiz Farooq had a traditional base of his followers in downtown Srinagar. After running a campaign for plebiscite as per the UN resolution and emerging as the National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s arch rival in Srinagar, Mirwaiz joined an anti-NC alliance, patronised by then ruling party, Janata Party, in the Assembly elections of 1977. He addressed several rallies of the alliance in company of senior leaders of the Janata Party.

On one occasion, then Prime Minister Morarji Desai himself visited Mirwaiz Farooq’s residence in downtown Srinagar where he received a warm reception. Groups of Mirwaiz Farooq’s female followers showered candies and flower petals and greeted Desai with the welcome songs of ‘wanwun’. However, Sheikh’s NC swept the polls, leaving only two seats to the JP in Kashmir.

In 1986, Mirwaiz Farooq joined hands with his traditional political rival, Dr Farooq Abdullah. It came to be known as ‘Double Farooq Alliance’. Later, the two Kashmiri leaders addressed a huge gathering of the Kashmiris with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at Srinagar’s Iqbal Park.

In the 1987 Assembly elections, NC and Congress coalition left two seats vacant for Mirwaiz Farooq’s nominees. Both were elected from Srinagar. One of them, Peer Mohammad Shafi, who had been returned from Zadibal Srinagar, was shot dead by terrorists in August 1991.

Upon Mirwaiz Farooq’s assassination, his 17-year-old son Umar Farooq was appointed as his successor in religious preaching and politics. Even after he was provided a thick security cover by the Government of India, Mirwaiz Umar was won over by Pakistan and anointed as the first Chairman of the separatist conglomerate named as ‘All Party Hurriyat Conference’.

Also Read: No justice for the families of massacred 35 Kashmiri Sikhs, even after 23 years