India hunting for mastermind of Kashmir bombing

India hunting for mastermind of Kashmir bombing
Indian Army soldiers in a vehicle patrol a street as a woman walks past during a curfew in Jammu, February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta -
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By Fayaz Bukhari

SRINAGAR (Reuters) - Hundreds of Indian forces were on Sunday hunting for the Kashmir chief of the Pakistan-based militant group believed to have masterminded a car bombing on an Indian security convoy, killing 44 paramilitary police.

The Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack on Indian security forces in decades, fuelling tensions between India and Pakistan.

India has demanded Pakistan close down the Jaish and other Islamist militant groups that operate from its soil. Islamabad has rejected the suggestion it was linked to the attack.

Within Kashmir, Indian military and police officials were looking for Mohammed Umair, the commander of the Jaish in the region, believed to have plotted the attack.

A police official said they had information that Umair had "radicalised and motivated" the Kashmiri school dropout who rammed a car laden with explosives into the convoy on Thursday.

Umair is thought to have entered Indian Kashmir from Pakistan in September to head the Jaish in the region. Security forces suspect he is in hiding in southern Kashmir, the police officer told Reuters. He couldn't be named in line with policy.

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility, is claimed in entirety by India and Pakistan, but ruled in part by both the south Asian countries.

Indian officials say Umair is a nephew of the chief of the Jaish, Masood Azhar, who is believed to be in Pakistan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised a befitting reply to the attack and says he has given the military a free hand to tackle cross border militancy.

The Jaish is considered one of the most lethal militant groups and has expanded its presence in Kashmir, the police officer said.

A spokesman for the ministry of home affairs declined to comment.

(Writing by Sudarshan Varadhan and Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Mark Potter)

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