Yusuf Azhar, also known as Mohammad Salim, who ran the “biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad in Balakot” that the Indian Air Force struck in the early hours of Tuesday, was among seven Pakistanis named by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), along with JeM chief Masood Azhar’s brother Ibrahim Athar, as the main accused in the hijack of IC-814 Indian Airlines flight in 1999.
A brother-in-law of the JeM chief, Yusuf was detained in Jammu in 1998 but was released soon. The hijack, on December 24, 1999, led to the release of Masood Azhar and two other terrorists in exchange for passengers and crew members of IC-814 after a seven-day crisis.
The Kathmandu-New Delhi flight was hijacked after it entered Indian airspace, and then flown to several locations before finally being taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan. The CBI secured a red corner notice (RCN) against Yusuf in 2000. The RCN mentions his birthplace as Karachi, and that he speaks Urdu and Hindi. Yusuf’s involvement is listed for hijacking, kidnapping and murder. At the time of hijack, he was believed to have been 28 years old.
According to an Interpol notice, Yusuf has a “sturdy build”, with dark eyes and black hair. CBI investigators said Yusuf and Ibrahim, Masood Azhar’s brother, had masterminded the hijack. Yusuf, they said, had contacted Indian national Abdul Latif and plotted ways to free Masood, who was incarcerated in Jammu.
Latif helped arrange logistics for the hijacking, finances, passport and forged driving licences, according to the CBI. While probing Yusuf’s role, the investigators are learnt to have found that the conspiracy to hijack an Indian Airlines flight started sometime in July-August 1998, when Yusuf sought Latif’s help to get a Bangladesh visa for himself on a fake Indian passport under the assumed name of Mohd Salim Mohd Karim.
In February 1999, Yusuf asked Latif to arrange for a flat on rent in Madhav Building in Goregaon West, a Mumbai suburb, under another fictitious name: Javed A Siddiqui. In April the same year, Yusuf reached Mumbai with a man identified as Shankar, according to investigators.
Yusuf gave photographs of Ibrahim Athar and obtained a passport for him, the agency found. After a failed attempt to free Masood Azhar through a jailbreak, a plan was firmed up in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in September 1999 to hijack an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu.
Ibrahim had been working on a hijack plan for nearly a year-and-a-half before details of the conspiracy were fixed up, according to the CBI.
As part of the plan, Abdul Latif was to procure Indian documents for the Pakistani militants, CBI investigators said. Ibrahim and Yusuf, according to CBI, also instructed him that the Indian Airlines flight will be hijacked from Kathmandu and will be taken to Afghanistan.