Was a "wanted" Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) member, arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in Reasi district on Sunday, 3 July, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member? Even as the row over his political link intensifies, the party continues to defend itself.
The Lashkar terrorist, named Talib Hussain Shah, belonged to Rajouri's Draj village and was appointed the social media incharge of the BJP's Minority Morcha in the Union Territory earlier in May.
The Quint spoke to Sufi Alam Din, the sarpanch of Draj, who confirmed that Shah was a BJP member.
"Shah had joined the BJP of his own will. He was very close to (J&K BJP chief Ravinder) Raina sahab, and was seen with him several times. He was also present in several BJP functions," Din said.
'Humara Sab Se Bharosa Uth Chuka Hai': Sarpanch
Speaking about Shah's links with the LeT which came to light, and whether anybody had raised doubts about his activities, the sarpanch said that nobody had any reason to suspect him.
"His behaviour towards everyone was good. Nobody knew what he had been doing secretly or what he had been planning. Nobody even had the slightest suspicion that he was working for a terrorist organisation," Din said.
Both of Shah's parents are alive, the sarpanch told The Quint. He also has a younger brother who had pursued his higher education outside J&K, and is currently employed in the private sector.
"Humara sab se bharosa uth chuka hai. Hum kis par bharosa kare? (We have lost faith in everybody. Who can we trust now?)" the sarpanch added.
What We Know So Far
As per officials, Shah was the mastermind behind at least three Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blasts in the Rajouri district. He was apprehended along with another alleged terrorist named Faizal Ahmed Dar. Two AK rifles, seven grenades, and six sticky bombs were also recovered from the duo along with other arms.
After Shah was arrested, Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) member Bilal Rashid uploaded several pictures on social media showing Talib Shah posing with senior BJP leaders, including Home Minister Amit Shah.
Rashid also uploaded a purported appointment letter, which states that Shah was made the social media incharge of the BJP's Minority Morcha in J&K on 9 May this year.
"Mr Talib Hussain Shah, at Draj Kotranka, District Rajouri, shall be the new IT & Social Media incharge of BJP Minority Mocha Jammu Province with immediate effect," the purported appointment letter uploaded by Rashid states.
In one of the uploaded pictures, Shah can be seen posing with J&K BJP chief Raina. In another, he can purportedly be seen sharing the dais with Home Minister Shah.
After his arrest, the police had said that Shah was in constant touch with an LeT militant named Qasim, and was involved in IED blasts in Rajouri apart from the killing of civilians. He was also in touch with a Pakistan-based LeT handler named Salman.
The police also said that earlier, two terror operatives of the LeT had been arrested with five IED bombs. Since then, Talib had been on the run and had moved to the Reasi district to escape the police.
"When Shabir and Sadiq were apprehended, Talib escaped because he knew that both of them knew of his involvement in the LeT," sarpanch Din told The Quint.
The arrest of Shah had led to the unearthing of a terror module allegedly headed by him, as per the police.
'Not a Member, Posed as a Journalist, Conspiracy by Pakistan': Everything the BJP Said After Shah's Arrest
However, the BJP's official position was in contrast to the claims made by the sarpanch of Draj as well as the Congress.
BJP spokesperson Abhinav Sharma claimed that Shah had visited the party's headquarters by posing as a reporter of a news portal, and that his intention was to conduct a recce at the behest of his handlers from Pakistan to target the party leadership.
"He visited our headquarters as a journalist of a news portal and interviewed our president (Ravinder Raina) who is well known for his nationalist views and for openly speaking against Pakistan and terrorists," the spokesperson claimed.
Sharma also rejected claims that Shah was the social media incharge of the minority cell. "According to our official records, he was neither a primary member nor a basic member, so there is no question of being an active member."
J&K BJP chief Raina seconded Sharma's claims, saying that Shah's presence in the party was a "conspiracy hatched by Pakistan" to target him and the party headquarters.
"He introduced himself as a journalist and took my interviews several times at my party office sometime back. He developed a close liaison with party activists and leaders after coming to our headquarters," Raina was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
Raina also claimed that he came to know from security agencies that Shah was a mole planted by terrorists based in Pakistan.
The BJP leader added that terror organisations, frustrated by the BJP’s expansion in J&K, have repeatedly threatened him over the years. However, since they failed in their endeavours, they hatched a conspiracy by planting their member in the BJP, he claimed.
"There was a letter circular, on the basis of which it is believed that Sheikh Bashir, who is the president of the BJP Minority Front of Jammu and Kashmir, had appointed Talib Hussain on 9 May," Raina was quoted as saying by ANI.
Raina, however, said that Shah had distributed a letter of his own, and that he left the party on 18 May.
The BJP also put the blame on its online membership process, which lets people join the party without being subjected to background checks.
Congress Calls Situation a 'Security Lapse,' Demands High-Level Probe
Meanwhile, the Congress has demanded a high-level probe into the matter.
"That Shah was an active member of BJP's IT cell needs no proof but it is a matter of concern and a big security lapse," Congress working president and former minister Raman Bhalla said while speaking to the press.
He added that Shah's pictures with Raina as well as the Union Home Minister spoke volumes about his association with the BJP, "which facilitated his induction into the party and also to a top post in the IT and media cell."
Bhalla also questioned intelligence agencies for "failing to detect the presence of a terrorist in the BJP."
(With inputs from PTI and ANI.)