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The first tip-off about militants in Poonch came from a labourer

On October 11, the day before five Army soldiers were killed by unidentified terrorists in Poonch, security agencies intercepted a phone call confirming their presence in the area. The Poonch encounter, which has continued for 15 days, is one of the longest operations conducted in the dense forests south of the Pir Panjal range in the last ten years. As of October 11, nine Army soldiers have been killed and three others injured, including two policemen from Jammu and Kashmir, in three separate encounters in the Poonch-Mendhar-Rajouri region.

Describing the sequence of events, a senior government official told The Hindu that at least two gun-wielding men had entered a labor camp on October 10 and asked for a worker’s phone. He walked to the nearest Army post and alerted the officials after his phone was taken away. Following this, the entire area along the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch-Rajouri with Pakistan was put on high alert. ‘A small group is believed to have been behind the attack, even though the number of terrorists is unclear,’ a Defense official said. Searches are underway in the jungle, he added.

On October 11, five soldiers were killed while searching for clues – Vaisakh H., Jaswinder Singh, Mandeep Singh, Gajjan Singh and Saraj Singh. After the phone chatter was intercepted, the area near Surankote, at least 10 kilometers away from the Line of Control, was cordoned. A counter-terrorism operation was in progress in Nar Khas forest in Mendhar on October 15, as a result of which ‘there was heavy exchange of fire’, resulting in the death of Rifleman Vikram Singh Negi and Rifleman Yogambar Singh.

According to a statement issued on October 16, Subedar Ajay Singh and Naik Harendra Singh were also killed in action during search operations in Nar Khas forest in Mendhar. Communications with the two were disrupted, and their bodies were found on October 16. The joint police and army search party that visited the Bhatta Durian forest in Poonch’s Mendhar area to trace the terrorist’s hideout killed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) convict Zia Mustafa on Sunday. As a result of the encounter, the joint search party was heavily engaged by the hiding terrorists, and three security personnel were also injured.

Police claim they have taken Mustafa, who was being held at the Kot Balwal Jail in Jammu on remand, as he had infiltrated more than a decade ago through the same route. One official familiar with the area said the terrain is difficult in Poonch and encounters are often long, making it easy for terrorists to flee.’They are foreign terrorists who have been in Srinagar for some time,’ another official said.

The Hindu reported on October 18 that a new terror group, PAFF (People’s Anti-Fascists Front), a front for LeT, claimed responsibility for the ongoing attack. According to the group, two unidentified terrorists watched over an Army patrol party for around 10 hours before ambushing their tent around dawn the following morning (October 11). According to the narrator in the video, who is identified as the leader of the strike team, they crossed ‘Chamrer Gali’ around 4.30 pm on October 10. The video was dismissed as an ‘immature propaganda attempt’ by an Army source.

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