In a dramatic turn of events on Wednesday, unarmed villagers in Jammu and Kashmir overpowered a young Pakistani terrorist who took them hostage shortly after he and another militant ambushed a BSF convoy and killed two troopers on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.
Eleven Border Security Force personnel were also injured in the morning attack on a stretch of the highway in Udhampur district that has been free of terrorist violence for 15 long years. Once the BSF shot dead one of the two attackers, the second one fled, with his weapon.
Identified later as Usman alias Qasim Khan, the 20-something from Faislabad in Pakistan quickly sprinted to the small Chirdi village some 15 km away and took shelter in a house after flashing his AK-47 rifle.
The rattled residents first fed him food when he said he was hungry. Later, when he sought help to escape from the village, the three men in the house pounced on him, grappled with him and overpowered him just as security forces had thrown a ring around the village.
“After we disarmed him, the militant begged us to let him go,” said one of the villagers who took hold of his AK-47.
He also pleaded: “Mujhe mat pakdo, mujhe mat pakdo.” (Don’t catch me.)
In no time, the frightened Pakistani, who was wearing a black shirt and trousers, was handed over to the security forces who led him away down the mountain path after securing him with a rope.
It was the first time that Indian security forces captured a Pakistani terrorist — after the 2008 Mumbai terror attack.
Police officials said he was linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group, which also carried out the deadly Mumbai attack that left 166 Indians and foreigners dead.
According to informed sources, the Pakistani terrorist confessed that their ultimate mission was to target the ongoing Amarnath Yatra. He added that 16 Pakistani terrorist modules were active in Jammu and Kashmir.
In New Delhi, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the incident. Amid indications that the Pakistani might be flown to New Delhi on Thursday, the home ministry said the ambush and capture would be probed by the National Investigation Agency.
It all began when two militants ambushed a BSF vehicle on its way to the Kashmir Valley, killing two troopers and injuring 11, at Narsu Nallah, 65 km from Jammu.
The BSF vehicle was peppered with bullets but the troopers fought back, one officer said.
After one of the attackers got killed, Usman ran all the way to Chirdi village in the hills and took three simple villagers hostage — a decision that was to seal his fate.
Officials initially gave no credit to the villagers who caught the terrorists. But the villagers gave their version of the story to reporters who thronged the village.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said the credit for catching the Pakistani should go to Chirdi villagers.
“Very brave of the unarmed civilians to wrestle and disarm an armed terrorist. They should be suitably rewarded for this bravery,” Omar said.
“Very unfortunate that the credit is not going where it is due.”
Some Indian experts felt that Wednesday’s attack was aimed at spiking the proposed talks between the National Security Advisers of Pakistan and India.
Wednesday’s attack took place on the 300-km Jammu-Srinagar highway that links Jammu region with the Kashmir Valley and is a lifeline for Srinagar.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi said the attack was “extremely worrying” because it followed the July 27 terrorist attack in Gurdaspur district in Punjab that left seven people dead.
Gurdaspur borders Pakistan, and those attackers too were believed to be Pakistanis.