Founder of the radical terrorist outfit Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen (TuM) and a top-ranking leader of Ahl-e-Hadith, 80-year-old Abdul Gani Dar alias Abdullah Gazali of Russu, Budgam, was found dead inside Jamia Masjid Ahl-e-Hadith at Maisuma. The location is close to the business hub of Lalchowk in Srinagar, and also the residential locality of the detained JKLF chairman Yasin Malik.
Police said the body was handed over to the cleric’s family after a team of doctors conducted the postmortem.
Internal War in Ahl-e-Hadith
“Prima facie, it appeared that someone had him forcefully in his head with an iron rod that led to his death. Samples have been lifted and CCTV footage is being scanned in various attempts to identify the assassin”, a senior police officer told The Quint. According to him, police suspected Gazali’s killing as part of the factional feud within the puritanical Ahl-e-Hadith community.
“We are investigating some leads indicating the hand of another cleric in this assassination”, he added and said that there was reportedly nobody other than the cleric inside the mosque when he was found motionless in a pool of blood.
Gazali is the third top ranking Ahl-e-Hadith leader who has been killed by unidentified persons at the same mosque in Maisuma in the last 21 years.
Then head of the organisation, Professor Mohammad Ramzan was attacked and left injured by unidentified gunmen around the same mosque when he was coming out after performing the Friday congregational prayers on 29 January 1999. Subsequently, he died at a hospital on 15 February 1999.
The organisation’s second top leader, 55-year-old Maulana Shaukat Shah, was killed in an IED blast outside the same mosque by unidentified terrorists, believed to be his rivals within the organisation, on 8 April 2011. Shah, was known for his moderate outlook and proximity to Yasin Malik as well as then Omar Abdullah’s National Conference government in the State.
Factional Violence is Nothing New in Ahl-e-Hadith Ranks
In a 400-page charge-sheet filed by police in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Srinagar on 14 July 2011, Gazali was mentioned as one among six terrorists who had planned and executed Shah’s assassination.
Others in the challan were identified as Javed Ahmad Munshi alias Bil Papa of Chhanpora, Nisar Ahmad Khan alias Ishaq, Abdul Majid Dar alias Al-Madani, Reyaz Ahmad Shah and Gulzar Ahmad Khan. According to the police, they were all associated with Shah’s rival group within the organisation which did not tolerate his bonhomie with “secular and moderate separatists”.
Shah’s assassination triggered a war within the Valley’s separatist camp as it was for the first time that members of his organisation and family blamed “insiders” for his killing and announced their cooperation with the Police investigation.
Sometime after that, senior Hurriyat leader Prof Abdul Gani Bhat created ripples with a statement when, speaking at a remembrance ceremony, he asserted that most of the separatist leaders and clerics including Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq, Qazi Nisar Ahmad, Prof Abdul Ahad Wani and Abdul Gani Lone had been killed “by our own men”.
During their custody, the accused were also interrogated by National Investigation Agency (NIA) for an IED blast which occurred at Delhi High Court on 7 September 2011 and was reportedly identical in fabrication to the IED that had been tied to a bicycle to eliminate Shah. However in May 2015 court of Third Additional Sessions Judge, Srinagar, YP Kotwal, granted bail to Gazali after prosecution failed to produce evidences. Thereafter, he continued his activities as a preacher but was believed to be closely related to the jihadist networks from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Jammu and Kashmir.
Gazali’s Terrorism Profile
In 1990, Gazali was the only militant above the age of 50 years, when he launched Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen (TuM) and headed it for two years, while introducing it as the guerrilla arm of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadith in Kashmir. It indoctrinated and recruited hundreds of terror cadres and claimed several attacks on security forces as well as multiple civilian killings.
Security forces arrested Gazali in 1992. During his custodial interrogation at a detention centre near the old airport in Srinagar, he came into contact with another detained militant, Aijaz Ahmad Ahangar of Nawakadal Srinagar. After both of them were released, Gazali got his daughter Rukhsana married to Ahangar.
Ahangar and Rukhsana are known to have travelled to Pakistan through Nepal, using false passports. Living in their new home in Islamabad, the couple had two daughters—Sabira, born according to her travel documents on 13 September, 1997, and Tooba, born on 27 December, 2001, and a son, Abdullah.
Gazali’s Son-in-Law is the Head of Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir
According to police records, Ahangar crossed over to Pakistan around 1995-96 and thereon to Afghanistan. He was inducted into a branch of Al-Qaeda in 2016 in Afghanistan and appointed as head of its J&K chapter, Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK). Tehreek-e-Taliban jihadist Hafiz Saeed Khan and the Afghan Taliban commander Abdul Rauf Aliza were reportedly his close associates.
Aliza and Hafiz Saeed Khan were both killed in the American drone attacks in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Ahangar’s 15-year-old son, Abdullah Ibni Aijaz alias Abu Umair also joined ISJK. However, in July 2017, he too was killed in an American drone attack.
Ahanger alias Huzefa Al-Pakistani, is currently believed to be the head of ISJK, affiliated to Al-Qaeda’s Afghanistan-based branch Villayat-e-Khorasan. Police are verifying reports claiming that Ahangar was among the five Al-Qaeda terrorists who died in a drone attack. His wife and two daughters, all holding Pakistani passports, surrendered to Afghan authorities. Over a dozen militants of this organisation have been killed in the last two years in internecine clashes with Hizbul Mujahideen and other pro-Pakistan jihadist groups and in encounters with security forces in Kashmir.
Ahangar’s elder daughter, Sabira, was married to Amir Sultan, a resident of Sialkot in Pakistan, who was killed in a United States drone strike near Nangarhar in Afghanistan on 17 September, 2019.