Pakistan-based jihadist group Jaish-e-Muhammad has rejected claims that its leader Maulana Masood Azhar has been arrested for his alleged role in the terror strike on the Pathankot airbase.
“Disbelievers and hypocrites across the world are celebrating our arrest,” a statement in Urdu said, “but the arrest never happened.”
“Even if they happen, what difference will it make? No difference, except one. Allah willing, there will be more enthusiasm and excitement among people of the faith, and the work of jihad will gather more strength and energy,” said the statement, posted Thursday afternoon on a Facebook community used by the Jaish to communicate with media and followers.
“Those taking the mujahideen as helpless and weak are greatly mistaken. You made the children of the martyr Afzal Guru cry, and since then, you have been crying, screaming and shrieking everyday,” it stated.
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New Delhi announced Thursday it will discuss dates for a meeting between the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries, earlier scheduled to be held on Friday. In private, though, an authoritative Indian government source told The Indian Express that the decision would be made “after assessing progress made in the investigation of the Pathankot attack”.
The government, the official said, also intends to press Pakistan to prosecute those it apprehends in one of the fast-track military courts set up in the country.
In its statement, the Jaish also lashed out at Pakistan’s government “which is friends with (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi, (former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna) Advani, and (former Prime Minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee”.
“We will settle all scores… We are not polytheists, who were born on the railway tracks, but the followers of Muhammad the Arab and the enlightened ones of Medina, suffused with the unity of Allah and intoxicated by the desire for martyrdom,” the Jaish said.
The statement came amidst a series of elliptical comments by Pakistani officials on reports of Azhar’s arrest. Khalilullah Qazi, spokesperson for Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said he was “not aware of such an arrest”.
Earlier, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office issued a statement saying “several individuals belonging to Jaish-e-Muhammad have been apprehended. The offices of the organisation are also being traced and sealed”.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the Indian government source said, received what he called “informal” information on arrests from his counterpart Lt General (retd) Nasir Janjua.
“The impression we were given was that some key individuals have been held, but that this could not be made public as legal processes have yet to begin,” the source said.
India, the source said, was also told that Azhar had been kept in informal custody at a house in Islamabad, but that action would depend on evidence gathered during a future investigation.
Few specific details on the arrests were shared, but Pakistan’s NSA is understood to have assured Doval that investigators had followed up leads provided by New Delhi, including five phone numbers called by the terrorists in the hours before the Pathankot strike.
Pakistan is, however, yet to register a First Information Report related to the Pathankot attack, though it has set up a joint investigative team made up of police as well as civilian and military intelligence officials.
“New Delhi’s decision to welcome Pakistani investigators should they wish to visit Pathankot has been made precisely to avoid any procedural issues being made pretexts to stall the investigation,” the source said.
Indian intelligence officials, however, said they had been unable to corroborate Islamabad’s claims of action against known Jaish facilities, such as its seminaries on the National Highway and Model Town in Bahawalpur, as well as offices in Multan.
The organisation appeared, though, to have taken down the home pages of multiple Jaish websites, among them alqalaamonline.com, rangonoor.com and fathuljawwad.com. The sites’ content, however, remained available on the websites, though it could not be accessed through the home pages.
Journalists based in Karachi and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province told The Indian Express that magazines published by the Jaish were still available for sale.