Srinagar/New Delhi, Aug 16 (IANS) The 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 National Investigation Agency (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 Pakistan to overground workers of the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba 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-administered 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.
"Some of the documents seized relate to receipt of money from suspect foreign sources and distribution of money so received to certain persons in (the) Kashmir Valley."
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 also searched Watali's driver Mohammed Akbar's house and the residence of Ghulam Mohammad Bhat in Tangmarg area of Baramulla district.
Bhat is an employee of a plywood factory run by Peerzada Ghulam Nabi - a trader who is also under the scanner for receiving money from Pakistan and using it to stoke trouble in Kashmir under the guise of business.
The investigating agency 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 Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity and other Pakistan-based militant outfits.
The NIA has also questioned hardline Geelani's two sons-Nayeem and Naseem, who are expected to be called again to Delhi for further quizzing.
The agency also questioned Faheem Ali, a Deputy Superintendent of Police who was personal security officer of moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Devender Singh Behl, a lawyer associated with Geelani.
Geelani's son-in-law Altaf Shah is among those arrested. Other arrested are Nayeem Khan, Ayaz Akbar Khanday, Mehrajuddin Kalwal, Peer Saifullah (all from Geelani's faction of Hurriyat), Shahid-ul-Islam (of the Hurriyat faction led by the Mirwaiz) and Farooq Ahmed Dar alias Bitta Karatay of a faction of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front.
Prominent separatist Shabir Shah, already arrested by Enforcement Directorate in a separate but similar case, is also likely to be questioned by NIA.