Investigators stayed away from making any statements on the identity of the people or groups behind the grenade attack at the Amritsar’s Nirankari Bhawan but Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh said on Monday that it seemed to carry Pakistan’s signature, adding that the initial investigations indicated that the grenade used was similar to the ones made by the Pakistani Army Ordnance factory.
Functionaries of the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat – an offshoot of the RSS, the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party – which works with the Sikh community has cautioned that there is an attempt to stoke disturbance in the state by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence.
The chief minister also dismissed the possibility of the attack being a replay of the decades-old Nirankari-Sikh conflict, as some have speculated.
A team from the National Investigation Agency visited the site of the attack on Monday, as per the standard operating procedure that applies in all terror-related investigations. “The case is yet to be handed over to the NIA,” said an agency official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He added that the possibility of a new module backed by the Pakistani spy agency, ISI, through Khalistani sympathisers based outside the country cannot be ruled out.
A central counter-terrorism official drew parallels with a similar attack on a police station in Maqsudan of Jalandhar district in September this year. “It is suspected that four grenades were thrown at the police station, injuring a policeman. But nothing can be said conclusively about it. A Khalistani outfit Bhindranwale Tigers Force (BTF) had claimed responsibility for it but again it was just a claim that is yet to be verified,” said the official who did not want to be named.
A Punjab Police official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they suspect Pakistan-based Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) leader Harmeet Singh ‘PhD’ alias Happy as the main conspirator behind the attack. There was, however, no official statement from the police.
In Delhi, home minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the security situation in the aftermath of the attack. Singh met home secretary Rajiv Gauba, Intelligence Bureau director Rajiv Jain, Research and Analysis Wing chief Anil Kumar Dhasmana, and other officials. The Punjab CM, who flew to Amritsar from Chandigarh along with his cabinet colleagues Navjot Singh Sidhu and state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, said the police recovered an HG-84 grenade, the same one used in the attack, from a terror module busted by the Punjab Police last month, indicating high probability of the involvement of inimical forces from across the border.
Prima facie, this appears to be an act of terror by separatist forces, organised with the involvement of ISI-backed Khalistani or Kashmiri terrorist groups, said the chief minister.
The state police did not offer any updates on their investigation; they rounded up a few members of the Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Committee, a state-wide religious body working for adequate respect of Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs. The committee is under the scanner because of a tussle between its activists and followers of the Nirankari sect a few months ago. The spat involved the setting up of a Nirankari Bhawan.
Singh also announced a reward of ₹50 lakh to anyone giving information regarding the two young men who carried out the attack. Three people were killed and 20 injured in the attack. Besides the Punjab Police, forensic teams and a team from the NIA reached the spot with bomb squads and sniffer dogs. Clarifying the role of NIA, the chief minister said it was helping in the investigations. He said certain leads have been found. Sketches and CCTV footage that went viral were termed fake by the CM. Singh said the attack could not be equated with the Sikh-Nirankari conflict in 1978, as that was a religious matter and the attack was purely a case of terrorism. That conflict left 13 Sikhs dead. The CM also announced jobs for the kin of those killed in the attack and₹50,000 each to the injured, in addition to free treatment.
A functionary of the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat has cautioned against the regrouping of outfits that supported the Khalistani movement, and are “actively campaigning by taking out rallies abroad.” RSS functionaries dismiss allegations that the attacks against the members of the Sangh are an outcome of the growing friction between the Sikhs and Hindus caused by the RSS’s efforts to subsume the Sikh identity within the Hindu fold.
The Aam Aadmi Party, meanwhile, defended its Punjab leader HS Phoolka, who triggered a controversy on Sunday with his remarks. Commenting on the grenade attack in Amritsar, Phoolka on Sunday told news channels that “the army chief came and made a statement. To prove his statement, he could have orchestrated the attack”.
However, the AAP MLA Monday regretted his statement, saying it was “inadvertent”.