NIA officer Mohammed Tanzil’s killing: Terror, drug cartel emerge as possible motives

The National Investigation Agency’s Deputy SP, Mohammed Tanzil, was shot dead by two unidentified motorbike-borne assailants near Sahaspur town in Bijnor district late Saturday, while he was returning from his native place after attending his niece’s wedding along with his family.

According to NIA sources, Tanzil was a part of several investigations looking into serious terror cases, including the attack on Pathankot airbase in January. The incident came just days after Pakistan’s Joint Investigation Team, looking into the attack on Pathankot Airbase, completed its five-day long Indian leg of the investigation.

Former top police officials and security experts view the killing of the NIA officer as “a very serious matter” — which could have taken place either at the behest of a foreign agency or drug cartel, or may even have links with local political authorities giving patronage to certain terror outfits.

What happened on 2 April night and thereafter?
-Mohammed Tanzil, Deputy SP with India’s elite investigation agency, the NIA, was on his way back to Delhi after attending a wedding at his native Bijnor district in UP.

-His Cyan-coloured Wagon-R car was suddenly accosted by two unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle.

-The two unidentified gunmen fired indiscriminately at Tanzil and his wife at point black range, managing to hit the officer with 24 bullets and his wife with four.

-Tanzil succumbed to his injuries, while his wife is in a critical condition at a hospital in Noida.

-Initial post-mortem reports revealed that the 24 bullets were pumped into Tanzil’s body from a 9mm pistol at point blank range.

According to sources, the attack on the NIA officer couldn’t have been a “mere coincidence, or accidental”.

“It’s a well-planned attack to eliminate Mohammed Tanzil, and proper recce was conducted to monitor the entire movement of the officer by the assailants, to give the plan fool proof shape,” an NIA source said.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) and Special Task Force (STF) of the UP police have been roped in for a joint operation with the NIA. The borders have already been sealed and a manhunt is underway.

Possible motives

NIA has begun a thorough investigation to identify, and capture, the gunmen who killed Tanzil, their motive and the greater forces at play behind the killing.

“There’s a strong motive behind the killing of our officer. Prima facie evidence shows that professional killers were used to eliminate Tanzil, who was not only handling some important terror cases but was also a brave officer in the NIA squad,” a senior NIA official said.

While the investigators are already exploring various angles to this incident, former top cops and counter-terrorism analysts have pointed out several possible motives:

-Terror angle: Tanzil could have zeroed in on the operators involved in the Pathankot attack or any other terror attack case, prodding them to take action.

-Drug cartel:The drug mafia in the Pathankot region, with possible international terror links, may also have been a factor.

-Role of sleeper cells: There’s conjecture that says that sleeper cells involved in the Pathankot and Gurdaspur terror attacks may have played a role in Tanzil’s killing.

-Local politicians who patronize terror operators and criminals may have had a hand.

-A remote possibility of local handlers of any Islamic terror group objecting to a Muslim NIA officer taking them on.

Prakash Singh, former DGP of UP Police said, “If the officer has been killed for professional reasons, as it seems so, it’s a very serious matter. The most important question is whether it was done at the behest of any foreign agency fearing that Pakistan’s role in the Pathankot airbase attack would get exposed, or due to some other motives. Here, the motive is very important,”

“Another angle of eliminating Tanzil could be that the local operators of any Islamic terror outfit felt that how could a Muslim gather evidences against fellow Muslims,” Singh said, who was also former DGP of Border Security Force.

The manner in which Tanzil was brutally gunned down exhibits a strong grudge and reflects on the extreme hatred of the killers.

Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch, former director, Centre for Land Warfare & Studies,said, “Tanzil was probably getting closer to the truth. It’s important to find out the forces behind the two killers. There’s also a drug angle in the Pathankot case. In Punjab, there’s an unholy nexus between a section of politicians across party lines, bureaucrats, police and drug mafia.”

“Did Tanzil get to know the names of those involved in the attack or supporting a terror outfit? If the investigators fail to find out the people and their motive behind the NIA officer’s killing, then there won’t be any incentive for the police to investigate serious cases of terror, etc,” Katoch said, without ruling out the possibility of a local political angle.

“Any involvement of local political authorities also needs to be explored…under whose patronage did the local operators of terror outfits flourish? It’s all about vote bank politics and the criminals easily get away with crimes due to political patronage,” added Katoch, a defence analyst.

Prior to the Pathankot airbase attack on 2 January, a similar terror attack took place in Gurdaspur in July 2015. In both the cases, terrorists stormed the target locations with ease and as a result, the role of sleeper cells has been probed.

Counter-terrorism analyst Anil Kamboj remarked, “It was very clear in the terror attacks in both Gurdaspur and Pathankot that without local support from sleeper cells, the terrorists from across the border couldn’t have made it in so easily.”

“This question has been raised several times. And now in the case of Tanzil too, the role of sleeper cells can’t be ruled out. May be he got close to knowing the names of the operators of sleeper cells backed by some strong forces. It needs to be probed and revealed.” Kamboj said.

Bijnor– A SIMI hotbed: any connection?

According to sources, Bijnor district has been a hotbed for the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists. It’s noteworthy that after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had announced the renewal of a five-year ban on SIMI in September 2014, the sleeper cells of the banned outfit made its presence felt during investigations in the Bijnor bomb blast case.

During investigation, a small liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder (2.5 kg capacity) fitted with wires, two electronic chips (circuits), a metal pipe and two cartons of match boxes were recovered from the house where the blast had taken place.

According to police sources, the CCTV footage revealed the identities of five suspects, seen taking their badly burnt aide to a local doctor. All five of these men were alleged SIMI activists who escaped after breaking out of a jail in Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh.

SIMI has a modus operandi of using matchstick sulphur as their signature in terror attacks outside Uttar Pradesh. In at least a dozen incidents of terror attacks in southern states, SIMI’s signature had helped investigators to zero in on the accused.

“We’re probing into all possible links, including involvement of locals in this case,” a police source added.


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