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NIA on terror money trail, conducts searches in Kashmir

SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Wednesday widened its net in the Kashmir terror money trail and conducted searches at a dozen locations in Jammu and Kashmir, including the houses of a prominent Kashmiri businessman and a lawyer – both said to be close to hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The fresh operation was a follow-up search by the NIA in the Kashmir terror funding case that has already led to the arrest of eight separatist leaders for their alleged involvement in giving money received from the neighbouring country to overground workers of the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkare Toiba militant outfits to fuel unrest in the valley.

An NIA spokesperson said in New Delhi that officials searched the premises belonging to the family, relatives and aides of Zahoor Watali – an influential Kashmiri businessman known to be friends with Pakistani leaders and separatists as well as mainstream politicians in Kashmir.

Former Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir Prime Minister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhary had attended the marriage ceremony of Watali’s son at the businessman’s residence in the posh Srinagar neighbourhood of Baagaat. His business empire is reportedly spread in Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh and Dubai.

Sources said Watali, who has been under the NIA scanner for nearly two months and was called for repeated questioning at the agency’s Delhi headquarters, was quizzed afresh while the raids went on for hours at his premises on Wednesday. The Srinagar house of lawyer Mohammad Shafi Reshi, one of the closest aides of Geelani, was also searched – sparking protests by the Kashmir High Court Bar Association in Srinagar.

“The house belonging to Shafi Reshi and premises related to Watali were searched and a lot of incriminating material, suspect financial records and property-related documents and electronic devices, including mobile phones, pen drives and hard drives have been seized during the searches,” the NIA spokesman said in a statement.

The premises searched included that of Watali’s three close associates and his two brothers-in-law in Handwara town of north Kashmir Kupwara district.

The NIA first conducted raids in Kashmir, Delhi, and Haryana in June in its search for evidences of separatist leaders and businessmen receiving funds from Hafiz Saeed, who heads Lashkar front Jamaatud Dawa charity and other militant outfits.

Indo-Asian News Service