J&K: Hunt still on in south Kashmir for terrorists behind Kulgam attack
"Our assessment is that the group is still in south Kashmir and has not crossed over to the other side of the Pir Panjal. We are hoping for contact before they cross over," a senior official said.
The hunt is on for terrorists involved in the ambush in which three soldiers died in Jammu and Kashmir's Kulgam district earlier this month, with security officials indicating the same group was behind attacks in Rajouri and Poonch this year.
A top security force officer said combing operations were underway in south Kashmir and quadcopters were being used extensively to track down the perpetrators of the attack.
"Our assessment is that the group is still in south Kashmir and has not crossed over to the other side of the Pir Panjal mountain range. We are hoping for contact with the group before they cross over. If they manage to cross over, they will lie low for another extended period," the senior officer told PTI on the condition of anonymity.
Three Army personnel were killed by the terrorists in the Halan forest area of Kulgam on August 5.
The troops had launched a cordon-and-search operation after picking up on signals about the possible movement of the ultras through the forest area.
A total of five soldiers were killed in Poonch in April and another five lost their lives in an attack at Bhattadurian in Rajouri in May.
"There is a striking resemblance between the attacks in Rajouri-Poonch earlier this year and the one in Kulgam recently. We believe that it is a group of six to eight terrorists who are operating on both sides of the Pir Panjal mountain range," the official said.
He said while most of the group consists of highly trained foreign terrorists, they are being supported by two to three local ultras.
"Their modus operandi is to lie low without getting noticed and recce for possible targets. Once they carry out an attack, the group just goes back to hibernation for a certain period," the official added.
The group, which is believed to be a mix of terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, has so far managed to stay under the radar by avoiding using communication gadgets like phones.
"They are strictly avoiding phones, they do not go to villages, they are not interfering in local disputes and they seem to be paying for whatever they need. This limits both human intelligence possibilities as well technological surveillance," the official added.
He said the logistics for the group seem to be provided by a dedicated and trusted network of over-ground workers.
The senior officer further said the Kulgam operation was based on the "digital footprint of the terrorist group" picked up sometime earlier.
"Since the area is deep inside the forest, a communication centre with a small team was established while the larger team fanned out to look for the ultras. The terrorists exploited it by targeting the communication centre," he said.
The official asserted that the terrorists have been lucky so far "but we will get them".