Srinagar: He was just four feet two inches tall and walked with a limp. Noor Mohammed Tantray, the Jaish-e-Mohammed commander who was gunned down today, stood out in a crowd but his mental acuity more than made up for that disadvantage, officials said.
Called “merchant of death” by a special court in Delhi, Tantray was believed to be the brains behind several strikes, including the attack on the BSF camp outside the Srinagar airport on October 3 and on state minister Naeem Akhtar s cavalcade in Tral on September 21 this year.
The end came during the intervening night of December 25 and 26 at Samboora in Pulwama district of South Kashmir, not far from his home in Tral.
The killing of the 47-year-old JeM divisional commander, who was out on parole, is a “significant blow” to the group’s operations in the Valley, officials said.
“We had missed him only by few minutes in the past and I was sure he would run out of luck soon as his height was his biggest disadvantage. With each passing day, the search narrowed,” a senior police official, involved in the operations, said on condition of anonymity.
Tantray’s limp also made it difficult for him to disappear into a crowd and police officials were sure they would be able to isolate him.
After escaping from the Aripal encounter — in which three JeM militants were killed — at Tral in April this year, Tantray had been on the radar of the Special Unit of the Jammu and Kashmir Police.
Their efforts to track him down finally bore fruit on Christmas night when he was trapped in a house and could not escape. His two other accomplices, believed to be foreign militants, managed to flee, an official said.
Tantray, who spent eight years in Tihar jail, had intensified his activities since his release on parole in 2015.
A close aide of Jaish commander Ghazi Baba, who masterminded the 2001 attack on Parliament, Tantray was arrested from Delhi s Sadar Bazar on August 31, 2003.
He was arrested along with four others and charged with conspiracy to carry out terror attacks in various parts of the national capital.
The five militants were arrested following an encounter in which two terrorists were killed. Besides arms and ammunition, police also recovered a sum of Rs 19.20 lakh from Tantray.
Then special POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) judge R K Gauba words proved prophetic when Tantray emerged as the most wanted militant in the Kashmir Valley after his release from jail, an official said.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011 in the case and shifted to Srinagar’s Central Jail in 2015 before being released on parole. His parole was extended by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court same year.
While sentencing him along with others under the stringent anti-terror law in 2011, the judge had said the challenge posed by terrorism had to be met “head-on by a multi-prolonged strategy”.
“India’s war against terrorism is to be waged not only by security measures but also by all organs of the state, including the judiciary which must share the responsibility of dealing with such elements with an iron hand,” he said.
Terming the five “merchants of death”, the court had said the “foot soldiers of forces inimical to India and bent upon sabotaging the peace and tranquility here, besides posing a serious threat to its unity, sovereignty and integrity, have to be neutralised”.
The “merchants of death” had to be locked away for the rest of their lives “…in order that they are suitably de- fanged and blunted so as to be of no further use to the enemy”, the judge had said in his seven page order.
Tantray’s terror graph validated the judge’s words, said an official.
Tantray is believed to have provided logistical support to JeM militants who stormed the Police Lines in Pulwama in August this year. Eight security personnel and three militants were killed in that attack.
He was allegedly involved in the JeM attack on the BSF camp, outside the Srinagar International Airport, on October 3, in which one BSF officer and three militants were killed.
Tantray was also found to be involved in the grenade attack on State PWD Minister Naeem Akhtar s cavalcade in Tral on September 21. (PTI)