PESHAWAR: Security agencies and police have unearthed new startling evidence that sheds light on the hours-long gun battle in one of the city’s posh areas resulting in the death of five militants and martyrdom of two law enforcers, Dawn was informed.
The mounting evidence, police and security officials say, belie claims by some individuals with “vested agenda” that the 17-hour-long gun battle with militants holed up in a house, was staged. The house was located at a narrow street and the gun battle on April 17 was witnessed by neighbours.
Read more: Peshawar operation concludes after 17 hours, 5 suspected terrorists neutralised
“Those casting doubts and aspersion on our credibility have vested agenda. They wouldn’t explain how an assistant sub inspector of the counterterrorism department lost his life, or how, a soldier was killed. They wouldn’t explain why, if the militants indeed were innocent, the TTP owned them, or why they did not surrender, despite several attempts made through public sound system,” a senior security official said.
Dawn sat down with police and security officials to learn more about the encounter, how it took place, how they tracked down the group and what further evidence they have picked up to connect some of the loose ends and to seek answers to claims by some people that the militants were killed in cold blood.
It has emerged that Amjad Ali, the ringleader of the group killed in the Hayatabad operation, had been affiliated with Mufti Shahzad group, an offshoot of the TTP. He had been on the security agencies radar for quite sometime for his activities in the Hayatabad region.
New evidence shows how a militant group had planned to kill a key KP cabinet minister and failed
Shahzad operates in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province. A former Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) operative, “Mufti” had joined the TTP. His brother was also associated with LeJ and was killed along with its chief Riaz Basra alias Akram Lahori in May 2002.
“We have been looking for Amjad for quite sometimes. His name had cropped up during interrogation of several high profile cases in Hayatabad area and July 2018 suicide attack that killed ANP leader Haroon Bilour,” the official said.
Amjad’s track, however, went cold when he slipped away to Turkey. It was the attack on Peshawar High Court’s Justice Mohammad Ayub Khan Marwat towards the end of February that brought the spotlight back on the group. “Our first reaction was: where is Amjad?” “Has he come back?”
That’s when surveillance began, as the security agencies not only tracked down his location but also intercepted conversation that raised alarms rigging. “The group definitely was up for something big,” police and security officials said. “They were discussing potential individual targets,” the officials said.
Things began to move swiftly from thereon, when one such lead indicated that an Afghan suicide bomber identified by his alias “Qari” had been handed over to Amjad on March 22 in Peshawar’s Perano Market in the famous Karkhano Bazaar.
It was to be revealed later, based on audio conversation saved on one of the cell phone’s recovered from the house that the group was planning to assassinate a key cabinet minister of the KP government on April 8, in Hayatabad.
Minute to minute communication
The audio, played for Dawn, provided almost minute to minute communication between different members of the group, the venue in Hayatabad where the cabinet minister was a chief guest, his arrival, the description of the vehicle its colour and make, he was travelling in, the gates the entry was to be made, the deployment of the police security cordon and a video clip of the arena and the stage where the minister was seated.
The entire communication, in short audio message format, within the group was done through VPN (Virtual Private Network). The minister was lucky. The suicide bomber’s motorbike failed to start just when the minister was leaving the venue. Frantic communication between the group members ensued.
The bomber could only drive a motorcycle. So, they put him in a vehicle to drive to chase the cabinet minister. “Make way for the [Toyota] Vitz”, one man repeatedly shouts, heard in one of the audio clips. By then, the minister’s vehicle had gone way ahead. “Return to the dera [house]”, a man is heard speaking in the audio clip.
Whose voices were those 66 audio communications, identifying group members by their aliases? That crucial information came from Saeed, a sixth member of the group, captured with a bullet wound and treated at the Combined Military Hospital.
During interrogation, Saeed is seen identifying each voice and who it belonged to, according to a short video of the interrogation shown to Dawn. The whole plot was unravelled. The entire group stood exposed, all killed in the gun-battle.
Police have since begun picking up facilitators, including the one, who had brought the bomber and had handed him over to Amjad.
Evidence suggests that Amjad had left the country and gone to Turkey and had attempted to illegally enter Greece to escape his terrorist past and start a new life. He was caught and deported.
His ‘social’ activities as well as some of the group members’ indicated that their militant lives were driven more by money.
Forensic investigations further revealed that pistol and SMG empties recovered from the house matched with those used in the attack on Justice Ayub.
A report by the Forensic Science Laboratory (copy available with Dawn shows that the 9mm pistol used in attack on Justice Ayub was a licensed weapon (number 0702207) issued to Tariq Usman by the KP Home and Tribal Affairs department. Tariq was amongst those killed in the gun battle.
Also, amongst those killed the would-be suicide bomber, was Emran Momand, the twenty-plus year old Afghan from Nangrahar, identified in the audio communication as “Qari”. His Afghan passport recovered from the scene of the gun battle showed he was issued an Afghan passport in October 2018.
Two of the remaining three facilitators had been identified, said security officials. “We may have some more news for you,” he said. “This was a group that was dangerous and stashed ample ammunition in the basement of the house. Even the BDS warned against going down to the basement. It was booby-trapped,” he said.
The quadcopter recovered from the house was the best that one could get, which could be connected to a mobile phone to give a live feed. The ‘drone’ was used for surveillance. “Even we don’t use that,” the official said.