India: Kashmiri Militants Target Cellular Installations

By Amin Ahmed
150527-IN-bsnl-620 Pedestrians walk in front of the regional Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) telecommunications office in Srinagar, India, May 27, 2015.

Suspected militants waging a campaign against cellphone companies have killed two people and injured three others in a spate of attacks in North Kashmir.

The attacks forced the suspension of cellular services in the town of Sopore, 52km (33 miles) from Srinagar, capital of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir.

Suspected militants late Tuesday shot dead Ghulam Hassan Dar, 55, who hosted a mobile tower owned by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), a government-run cellular company, near his house in Sopore town.

“Three gunmen wearing combat dresses and their faces masked forced entry into our house around 9:20 p.m. Tuesday [local time],” Tanveer Ahmad Dar, his 34-year-old son, told BenarNews.

“They asked my father in Urdu why the tower was functional even after a warning issued to close it down. Before my father could have replied, they shot him dead from point-blank range.”
In another attack, unknown gunmen on Wednesday evening shot at and injured Imtiyaz Ahmad, 36, a native of Pattan town in North Kashmir. He was wounded in the right thigh.

Three mobile towers belonging to three different cellular companies are installed on Imtiyaz’s land.

On Monday, suspected militants attacked the Irqa telecom center, a BSNL franchise; in the busy Iqbal market of Sopore, killing local resident and BSNL employee Mohammad Rafiq, 26. An employee and a customer also were injured.

A day earlier, suspected militants lobbed a grenade at a mobile tower in the town, but there were no fatalities, according to local media.

Kashmir is a disputed region between India and Pakistan, both of which control a part of it. In the 1990s, an armed resistance broke out against Indian rule. According to human rights organizations, the conflict has claimed more than 50,000 lives.

Threatening posters

This week’s killings occurred after posters appeared in Sopore on May 17, announcing stern action against people who failed to demolish mobile towers near their premises.

In the Urdu-language poster, a little-known militant group calling itself “Lashkar-e-Islam” warned cellular companies to shut their operations, and local people to abandon “mobile recharge business” and other activities linked with cellular services.

“Cellular companies and others working with them are spying for security agencies to get militants killed and arrested,” the posters read.

Last week, Tanveer said, two gunmen came by to the family’s house to demand that the Dars shut down their mobile tower.

“At that time, we turned off the power supply to the tower and subsequently the mobile signal went off the air. However, the other day company officials forced us to restore the signal, saying no such threat had been issued to other landlords,” he said.

‘Close to tracking down assailants’

On Tuesday, Jammu & Kashmir police picked up five local youths for questioning.

“We are close to tracking down the assailants behind the attacks,” Inspector General of Police Syed Javid Mujtaba Gilani told BenarNews.

“Police are questioning some suspects and we have got some vital leads in the case. I am hopeful that assailants will be brought to book soon. People need not panic as police are committed to restoring peace in the town,” he added.

On May 1, suspected militants visited the Sopore offices of the four leading cellular companies, including Airtel, Vodafone, BSNL and Aircel. They told them to shut down their services within a week, according to The Hindu, which cited a senior cellular company official.

Panic grips town

Following Tuesday night’s attack, several of those companies suspended operations in Sopore on Wednesday.

Local people running recharge outlets removed their sign boards and closed shops to avoid attacks.

“Authorities should take all necessary measures to save the lives of people working with the cellular companies for their livelihood. The militant group should give more time to cellular operators and others to wind up their operations,” a local youth running a recharge outlet, who asked not to be named, told BenarNews.

A marketing executive at Aircel – a private cellular company – said that most of the employees, including those maintaining mobile towers, had refused to come to work.

“The employees are fear-stricken due to rampant attacks. The service is badly hit due to non-availability of employees,” he told BenarNews.

Militant groups have never banned cellular services in Kashmir before.

Militants, separatists condemn killings

Meanwhile, separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mohammad Yasin Malik condemned the attacks.

“The killing of civilians is an act of terror. The culprits behind these inhuman acts are the enemies of Islam and humanity,” Geelani said, according to local media outlet “Rising Kashmir”.

Syed Salah-u-din, chairman United Jihad Council (UJC), an amalgam of militant groups, claimed that Indian agencies were behind the attacks on people associated with the telecom business, the Indian Express reported.

“We assure bereaved families that militants will expose and punish the extremists behind the civilian killings,” the UJC chief said.  

Yasin Malik, chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, asked UJC chief to probe the killings in North Kashmir.

“The cold-blooded killings should be investigated and culprits exposed before public,” he told a press conference in Srinagar on Wednesday.


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