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JeM Terror Camp Destroyed by IAF Was Being Run by Masood Azhar's Kin Who Plotted Kandahar Hijack

Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said a number of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists, trainers and senior commanders were killed in the air strike that destroyed terror camp in Pakistan's Balakot on Tuesday morning.


Updated:February 28, 2019, 12:16 PM IST

New Delhi: The terror camp of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Balakot, which got “destroyed” by the Indian Air Force on early Tuesday morning, was being run by Masood Azhar's brother-in-law Maulana Yusuf Azhar, the Ministry of External Affairs said.

Yusuf Azhar alias Mohammad Salim had led the hijacking of Indian Airline flight IC-814 in 1999 which was routed to Kandahar in Afghanistan where Masood Azhar was freed along with two other JeM members in exchange of the passengers aboard the Kathmandu to New Delhi bound flight.

Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said the air strikes were a “nonmilitary pre-emptive action” taken in a manner to “avoid civilian casualties”. He added that a number of JeM terrorists, trainers and senior commanders were killed in the air strike. This, he claimed, was the largest JeM camp in Balakot and was led by Maulana Yusuf Azhar alias Ustad Ghauri, the brother-in-law of Masood and a Pakistani national.

“In an intelligence led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated. This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, chief of JeM,” Gokhale said.

While there is no word yet on whether Yusuf has been killed, the statement puts the spotlight on Azhar, who was one of the men who hijacked the Indian Airline flight IC 814 to Kandahar in 1999. The JeM chief was then released by India in exchange for the passengers. In 2002, the government handed over a list of 20 fugitives to Islamabad which featured Yusuf Azhar's name.

Yusuf had contacted Abdul Latif nearly two decades ago and begun plotting ways to free Masood, who was incarcerated in Jammu. After a failed attempt at jailbreak, they hijacked an aircraft from Nepal to Kandahar in Afghanistan in December 1999.

The charge sheet in the case said after Yusuf set the ball rolling, the five hijackers — Ibrahim Athar, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, Shahid Sayeed Akhtar, Zahoor Ibhrahim Mistri and Shakir — met in Dhaka in September 2009, where Abdul Latif and Abdul Rauf were also present.

The CBI had arrested Abdul Latif and Dalip Kumar from Mumbai in December 1999 and Yusuf Nepali was arrested later from Kathmandu. As per the confessional statement of Latif —Yusuf Azhar had visited India and Nepal several times.

Athar, the charge sheet said, had pointed out that Indian passengers require only an identity card or a driving licence and this could be the gateway for the hijackers to take control of the plane and take it to Afghanistan. The conspirators had also decided that if their demands were not met by the Indian government, they would kill themselves.

While Athar had told Latif to return to India to procure the documents to pass off as Indian citizens, it was Abdul Rauf, a Pakistani citizen, who financed the conspiracy, said the charge sheet. Latif worked for the next two months to procure the documents and in October 1999, the two conspirators, Shahid Sayeed Akhtar and Yusuf Nepali, got three grenades and three revolvers from Kalimpong.

The Indian Airlines, New Delhi bound-flight from Kathmandu, was hijacked on December 24, 1999, with 179 passengers and 11 crew members on board. The plane was then taken towards Pakistan but later landed at Amritsar airport. It then took off again and landed at Lahore and Dubai for refueling, before finally landing at Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

A week-long, tense drama ensured with the hijackers eventually securing the release of Masood Azhar, Al Umar Mujahideen chief Mushtaq Zargar and Ahmed Omar Sayeed Sheikh, who has been convicted in the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

The CBI had said in its charge sheet that the entire operation was masterminded by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen's agents and aided by Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI.

In 2002, the government handed over a list of 20 fugitives to Islamabad which featured Azhar's name. An Interpol notice issued against Azhar the same year said that his place of birth was Karachi. The notice by the Interpol was done after the CBI notice which described him as a sturdy built man, wanted for kidnapping, murder and hijack.

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| Edited by: Divya Kapoor
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