In the days leading up to the rocket-propelled grenade attack on the Punjab Intelligence Headquarters in Mohali on May 9, police in Punjab and Haryana arrested eight people under terror charges, accusing them of having links with Khalistani militants and Pakistan’s ISI.
Police say that unlike in the past, most of the recent arrests have been of people with no strong ideological affinity to the Khalistani cause. The accused are usually from poor backgrounds and are mostly paid by their handlers to work as couriers.
“These are mostly youngsters who are willing to commit a crime for money. They don’t have anything to do with Khalistan or any such ideology. They are just couriers who take consignments from one place to another. Often, the main handlers are in Pakistan and other places and the couriers don’t know who are working for,” said Gurbinder Singh Sangha, Superintendent of Police (Operations), Ferozepur.
On May 5, four suspected terrorists who were allegedly on their way to Telangana to deliver a consignment of explosives were arrested by the Haryana Police in Karnal. Police said the consignment was allegedly dropped in a Ferozepur field by handlers in Pakistan using drones. A day later, the Punjab Police arrested two alleged accomplices of those arrested in the Karnal case and registered a separate case at Ferozpur Cantonment under the Arms and Explosives Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The next day, May 7, the Punjab Police claimed to have thwarted a terror attack by arresting two alleged terrorists from Tarn Taran, and recovered an improvised explosive device (IED) packed with RDX.
The Indian Express visited the homes of the eight accused.
No one in Vinjoke village in Ferozpur district has any sympathy for Gurpreet Singh over his arrest in an alleged terror case, but his brother Amandeep Singh’s arrest in the same case has left them puzzled.
The brothers, along with Parminder Singh and Bhupinder Singh, were among four suspected terrorists arrested by the Haryana Police on May 5.
“Gurpreet is a criminal and everyone in the village knew that. But we all thought Amandeep had nothing to do with him; he had publicly disowned his brother. Every time police came looking for Gurpreet, all the villagers would come out in Amandeep’s support,” said a neighbour.
Amandeep’s house, where he lived with his wife, a nurse in a private hospital, is locked. Amandeep worked as a driver.
Villagers say that a few years ago, Amandeep’s younger brother Gurpreet had become a nihang but he later gave up his robes and got into crime. Between 2013 and 2016, Gurpreet has six cases registered in Ferozpur and Jalandhar under the Arms Act and the NDPS Act.
Parminder Singh, who was arrested with the brothers, is also from Vinjoke village. Parminder has three cases registered against him, including one under the NDPS Act.
The fourth accused in the case is Bhupinder Singh, originally from Ferozpur in but had been working at a factory in Ludhiana.
Following the arrests in Karnal, the Special Operation Cell of the Punjab Police claimed to have arrested two of their accomplices – a Class 12 student, and Akashdeep Singh, 23, a driver. While police said they were arrested while trying to flee from Ferozepur in a Mahindra Scorpio, the family of both the accused claim they were picked up by the Punjab Police from their homes.
Speaking to The Indian Express at his house in Faridkot, the student’s father says the 18-year-old was sleeping when he was picked up on the morning of May 6 – he was to appear for his Board exam that afternoon.
After his mother, who worked as a clerk at the Civil Hospital, died in 2002, his father was hired as a guard at the hospital on compassionate grounds. The family is related to the two brothers who were arrested in Karnal a day earlier.
“It is true that our relative Gurpreet Singh was in bad company. A few months ago, Gurpreet had taken our son to the Hazoor Sahib. They used his phone to make calls. But my son is innocent,” claims Singh.
The family members of Akashdeep, from Peer Ke village near Ferozpur Cantonment, say that on May 6, police took him away in the presence of villagers. “But we later got to know that police have shown his arrest from Ferozepur city,” said Amandeep’s father.
The Dalit family lives in a poor neighbourbood on the outskirts of Peer Ke village.
The family said Akashdeep earned Rs 500 on days that he drove Gurpreet Singh’s Scorpio as a taxi. “He didn’t go every day, usually once or twice a week. Sometimes he would bring Gurpreet’s car home,” said his father, who works in a rice mill,earning Rs 10,000 a month.
So far, the Karnal police have not sought the remand of the class 12 student and Akashdeep.
The Punjab Police said, “Our preliminary investigations show that the student and Amandeep were directly involved in Thursday’s busted module. They received several consignments sent by Pakistan’s ISI and Pak-based pro-Khalistan terrorist groups.”
The Tarn Taran case
On Saturday, police said they averted a terror attack with the arrest of Jagga Singh, 40, and Baljinder Singh Bindu, 22, who were allegedly caught from Tarn Taran with an explosive device packed with RDX. Police said both Jagga and Baljinder have no criminal record.
Jagga, who lives in Khanowal village near Ajnala in Amritsar district with his wife and two sons, owns a tractor-trolley which he used to transport sand, said villagers.
Around 10 km away is Gujjarpura village, home to Bindu, who was arrested with Jagga. A school dropout, Bindu worked as a compounder in a private hospital near Ajnala.
Bindu lived with his widowed mother, grandmother and elder brother’s family in a small house in the Dalit part of the village. “Both the brothers were building a new house, but work has stopped since Bindu’s arrest,” said a neighbour.
Police claimed that Jagga and Bindu were to get Rs 30,000 for transporting the RDX to the desired location.