NAGPUR: A Jaish-e-Mohammed operative arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir Police last year has told the Nagpur Police that he was assigned to conduct a recce of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh headquarters in the city by his Pakistan-based handler, people aware of the matter said.
Raees Ahmed Sheikh Asadullah Sheikh, 26, is being grilled by the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) of the Nagpur Police for the last two days after being brought here from Jammu and Kashmir on remand, deputy superintendent of police (DSP) in the Nagpur ATS Abhay Panhekar said.
Sheikh, he said, told them that he attempted to conduct surveillance of the Dr Hedgewar Smriti Bhavan in the city and sent some video footage to his handler, Omar, a self-styled operational commander of the terror group based in Pakistan’s Nawabpur.
Sheikh, a resident of Awantipora town of Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir, was arrested in December last year after the alleged recovery of a grenade. During his interrogation, he had spoken of his visit to Nagpur in July last year which had prompted the city police to tighten security around the RSS headquarters and ban the use of drones in its vicinity.
This information also prompted the Nagpur Police to start the search for a Jaish sleeper cell in Nagpur which was to assist Sheikh during his visit.
But the local man, who was to contact Sheikh when he landed at the Nagpur airport on July 13 last year was a no-show. Raees checked into a hotel in west Nagpur’s Sitabuldi locality and tried to conduct the reconnaissance on his own using Google maps.
Sheikh intended to conduct the recce of six lanes around the RSS headquarters but he backed out after seeing the huge presence of security personnel and did not dare get too close to the RSS headquarters.
Raees has told the investigators that he took a video of Hedgewar Mandir while walking through Reshimbagh ground and pretending to be on the phone with someone.
He later shared the video with his handler on WhatsApp but was admonished over the video’s poor quality. He was instructed to go back again but Raees couldn’t muster the courage.
Raees switched off his mobile phone and went to a masjid near Santra Market in central Nagpur where he stayed for the day and returned to the hotel in the evening. On July 15, Raees returned to Kashmir by a Nagpur-Delhi-Srinagar flight.
Commissioner of Police (CP) Amitesh Kumar said Sheikh did come from a poor background but appeared to be technically sound in electrical work. He was recruited by the JeM on the recommendation of a friend to improve his finances. The friend was recently killed in an encounter with the police.