Indian investigators have claimed a breakthrough in the long-running probe into the deadly attack in Kashmir that left 40 troops dead last year, stating they arrested a man who drove an explosives-laden car and hid the bomber.
India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) said on Friday that they had detained 22-year-old Shakir Bashir Magrey, owner of a shop near the Lethpora bridge where the Pulwama terrorist attack unraveled on February 14 last year.
The attack, which saw a suicide bomber – later identified via DNA as Adil Ahmad Dar – ramming a vehicle strapped with explosives into an Indian convoy, claimed the lives of 40 military policemen in the disputed Kashmir region and put India and its nuclear-armed neighbor Pakistan at the brink of an all-out war.
The bombing was claimed by jihadist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and several accomplices of the main perpetrator have since been killed in run-ins with law enforcement, making Magrey the first suspect in the Pulwama case to have been taken into custody alive.
The NIA said that Magrey was instrumental in preparing for the attack, having procured “arms, ammunition, cash and explosive material” and handed them over to jihadists, including those directly involved in the Pulwama bombing. Magrey allegedly shopped for bomb materials, such as batteries, online.
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Magrey is also accused of providing his alleged co-conspirators with the details of the convoy’s whereabouts at the time of the attack. The man reportedly told investigators that he was tasked with monitoring the movements of the convoy a month before the bombing, and would later modify the car to be used in the attack, rigging it with an IED device.
However, his role did not stop at that. A NIA officer privy to the investigation told the Indian Express that Magrey was at the scene of the crime, having driven the bomb-laden car “500 meters from the attack site” himself before allowing the actual bomber to replace him at the steering wheel.
Dar was not a good driver and also nervous. So Magrey was given the task of driving the car till 500 [meters] from the attack site and hand over the vehicle to Dar.
Apart from that, Magrey, who is said to be a native of same village as the attacker, hid the suicide bomber in his house and provided “other logistical assistance.”
Investigators hope Magrey’s arrest will shed light on the circumstances behind an attack that still has the nation reeling, more a year after it took place. Magrey has been described by NIA sources as “a big catch,” since he knows “the entire conspiracy from start to finish.”
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The attack led to a tense standoff between India and Pakistan. In retaliation to the bombing, India launched airstrikes targeting what it said was the terrorist group’s camp in Balakot, Pakistan. While New Dehli has repeatedly said that it had taken out a “large number” of terrorists during the sorties, Islamabad has been adamant that there was no camp there. In a tit-for-tat response to the raid, Pakistan downed an Indian fighter jet in a dogfight and captured a pilot, who was later welcomed as a hero at home after his release from Pakistani custody. India, in turn, insists that it shot down a Pakistani F-16 during the showdown, however Islamabad has repeatedly denied that claim.
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