Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, who was on Wednesday declared a global terrorist by the United Nations, has been a thorn in the flesh of Indian security establishment for the last 20 years. From the 1999 IC-814 hijacking to 2001 Parliament attack, from 2016 Pathankot airbase attack to the 2019 Pulwama attack, Azhar’s name is writ large on most major terror attacks that India suffered over the last two decades.
Having established the JeM in Pakistan’s Bahawalpur shortly after his release from Indian custody, on October 1, 2001, Azhar engineered what had until then never been imagined in Kashmir: a vehicle-borne suicide attack on Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. The attack left 38 people dead.
He followed it with another massive attack, perhaps the most audacious, when, in December that year, JeM terrorists hit the Parliament Complex in a coordinated attack. Four JeM gunmen entered the premises of the Parliament in a car carrying the Home Ministry and Parliament labels and launched indiscriminate gunfire, even as more than a hundred political leaders were inside.
The attackers killed seven security personnel and a gardener before being killed.
The JeM had challenged the Indian State and brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. Both countries had moved their forces to the border. The standoff was finally broken thanks to intervention by the international community that forced Pakistan to act.
Pakistan placed Azhar under arrest for his role in the Parliament attack case, but he was released a year later due to insufficient evidence.
In 2002, JeM was declared an unlawful organisation, following which the group made two bids to assassinate then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. As JeM’s relationship with that country’s establishment soured, Azhar came under tremendous pressure. This led to a prolonged lull in JeM’s activities in Kashmir, and the outfit was not associated with any major attack for almost a decade.
But following the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, JeM found a new lease of life. Azhar formed an ‘Afzal Guru Shaheed Squad’, which carried out a series of attacks in Kathua, Samba, Jammu, Srinagar and Pulwama in 2014-15, killing several security personnel.
The militants left a note after each attack, declaring themselves as members of the Afzal Guru squad.
Since then, JeM militants have carried out one attack after another, including those at Pathankot in 2016, Nagrota and Uri Army camps the same year, Sunjuwan Army camp in 2018 and the Pulwama attack of February 14, 2019.
According to sources in Indian security establishment, Azhar is among the most motivated, committed and dangerous terrorists in the world. He is a unique operator in the terror landscape of the Indian sub-continent since he is not entirely dependent on ISI, the Pakistan spy agency, and has connections with Taliban and the al-Qaeda, sources said.
India’s dossier to the UN seeking a ban on Azhar, accessed by The Indian Express, describes him as “a Pakistan-based international terrorist and a leader of JeM, its chief financier, recruiter and motivator”. It says Azhar has been associated “with ISIL [or the Islamic State] and al-Qaida for… financing, planning and perpetrating” terrorist attacks.
Azhar came on the radar of Indian intelligence agencies for the first time in 1993, when his name cropped up along with Al-Itihaad Al-Islmiya, an al-Qaeda aligned Somali terror group that was seeking money and recruits from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). Azhar had at the time visited Somalia and facilitated recruitment of Yemeni mercenaries. He was soon arrested by Indian agencies when he visited Kashmir for terror activities.
As many as 18 of his family members are JeM fighters or motivators, according to intelligence agencies.
Beginning from the Kandahar hijack, where his elder brother Ibrahim Athar, brother-in-law Yusuf Azhar and younger brother Abdul Rauf Asghar planned the conspiracy, Azhar has involved his family members in a majority of JeM attacks.
Since 2007, a recent IB dossier says, Asghar has been head of operations and intelligence coordinator of JeM. “The second generation of Masood’s family has also joined the rank and file of JeM,” the dossier says.
Among relatives who work for JeM, as listed by the dossier, are Mohammed Tahir (elder brother and senior functionary), Ibrahim Azhar (elder brother and operational commander in Afghanistan), Abdul Rauf Asghar (younger brother and de-facto chief of JeM), Talha Saif (younger brother and chief of JeM’s publications and its students’ wing), Yusuf Azhar (brother-in-law and chief of Balakot training facility), Abdul Rashid (brother-in-law and chief of administration and training at Bahwalpur facility), Mansoor Ahmed (brother-in-law and in charge of defence wing), Abdullah (son who is involved in operations in Afghanistan and Kashmir), Waliullah (son undergoing terror training), Usman Haider and Mohammed Umer (sons of Ibrahim Azhar, they were killed in encounter with security forces in Kashmir in last one year), and Talha Rashid (brother-in-law, killed by security forces in Kashmir in 2017).
Following Pulwama attacks, India sent a dossier to Pakistan on Azhar. It cited an audio message from Azhar, soon after the death of his nephew Usman, where he “motivated the cadres to follow footsteps of Usman.”
This infusion of family blood has helped JeM not only get cadres but also funds which are collected through the Al Rehmat Trust in Pakistan. JeM’s fund collection campaigns include ‘Jehad Fund’ (for general terrorism); ‘Infaq fi Sabil Allah Muhim Fund” (to collect funds for Jihad in Kashmir); and ‘Nusrat Fund’ (donation of Pakistani currency of Rs 50), says the dossier.
According to the dossier, in recent years “there has been a significant increase in enrolment in basic induction courses, religious programmes and jihadi training courses organised by JeM at their centres in Pakistan.”
It says Azhar is also the head of the swimming course project by JeM, called “Samundari Jehad”. It was started at JeM’s Markaz Subhanallah in Bahawalpur in mid-2018 and is aimed at imparting maritime training to its cadres to launch water-borne attacks.
The dossier sent to Pakistan contained “specific details of JeM complicity in Pulwama terror attack and the presence of JeM terror camps and its leadership in Pakistan” apart from Azhar’s anti-India speeches and claims of attacks by Jaish on security forces in the past two years.
Besides Pulwama, India also presented nine specific instances when JeM conducted rallies and religious congregations in Pakistan “right under the nose of the Pakistan government” to indoctrinate and recruit men by instigating them against India.
In a recent post on its website Al-Qalam, JeM had eulogised 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, who was hanged on February 9, 2013. The dossier, citing Al-Qalam, said that its “Mujahideen” carried out a “suicide attack” on February 10, 2018, at the Army’s Sunjwan camp in Jammu, where five Army officers were killed. It claimed that the attack was a gift for the “Modi government” on the occasion of the death anniversary of Afzal Guru and for keeping its chief Masood Azhar in captivity.
The dossier said the JeM claimed on its website that “revenge’ operations launched by the Afzal Guru Shaheed Squad continue in Kashmir. “On February 20, 2018, JeM concluded a six-day congregation in Lahore when its ‘Shoba-e-Taaruf’ (Department of Introduction) delegation held 13 interactive sessions in which 700 people, including 65 ‘Ulemas’ (Religious Scholars), participated. During these interactions, around 30 people expressed their desire to take part in JeM training course — Daura-e-Tarbia. The participants showered praise on organizational activities of JeM and the role played by its chief Masood Azhar,” it said.
Citing another instance of March 27, 2018, the dossier listed a four-day congregation organised by JeM in Sialkot district spanning 17 sessions in which 1,500 people, including 50 Ulemas, participated.
In the latest dossier on activities of JeM, India is learnt to have listed names of as many as 40 militants — all of them Pakistani nationals — who were trained at the Balakot training centre in recent past. These cadres trained at Balakot came from eight different districts of Pakistan and were aged between 17 and 23 years.
From proposal to listing
2009: India moves a proposal by itself to designate Azhar as a global terrorist. China blocks the move.
2016: India again moves the proposal with the backing of the P3 — the US, UK and France — in the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee.
2017: The P3 nations move a similar proposal again. China blocks the proposal
February 27, 2019: The US, UK and France move a fresh proposal in the UNSC.
March 13: China puts hold on the proposal. The proposal was the fourth such bid.
March 28: The US, supported by France and the UK, directly moves a draft resolution in the UNSC.
April 3: China hits out at the US for threatening to use “all available resources” to designate Azhar as a ‘global terrorist’, saying Washington’s move is complicating the issue and not conducive to peace and stability in South Asia.
April 30: China says “some progress” has been achieved on designating Azhar as a global terrorist.
May 1: The 1267 Sanctions Committee designates Azhar as a global terrorist after China lifts the hold.
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