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Even without Kandahar, Azhar may have walked out

While India is demanding the custody of Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Moulana Masood Azhar alias Adam Issa for his involvement in cross-border terror in the country...

Written by Arunsharma | Jammu |
December 17, 2008 12:01:03 am

While India is demanding the custody of Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Moulana Masood Azhar alias Adam Issa for his involvement in cross-border terror in the country, security agencies had earlier failed to find anything substantial against the top terrorist when he remained lodged in high-security jails in Jammu and Kashmir for over five years, until he was finally let off along with two others in exchange for 150 passengers during the 1999 Kandahar crisis.

Azhar, who had been arrested along with another dreaded terrorist Sajjad Afghani, chief commander of the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA) in the Valley, for entering India on a fake Portguese passport, was not tried even for illegal entry into the country. Azhar was at the time the first general secretary of the HUA. His entry was rather dramatic, given that unlike using the Line of Control route, in January 1994, he actually flew into New Delhi from Dhaka as a Gujarat-born Portuguese national, Wali Adam Issa. A month later, he was caught while travelling on a two-wheeler along with Afghani.

However, the police failed to build a substantial case against him. Even an offence registered against him under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act in 1998 was dismissed by the designated TADA Court at Jammu a few days before his release at Kandahar as the prosecution failed to present a challan against him despite repeated chances given by the judge. While dismissing the case against Azhar, the court, sources said, had directed the prosecution to deport him to his native country.

However, before the court’s directions could be implemented, terrorists hijacked the Indian Airlines IC-814 flight from Nepal to secure his release along with two other terrorists.

B L Chatha, an advocate who had been contesting cases of several terrorists and claims to have met Azhar several times at the TADA Court, says the only case pending disposal against the man who would go on to set up the Jaish was an unsuccessful jail break in 1998. In this attempt, his accomplice Sajjad Afghani was shot dead by police.

Azhar’s release from jail followed instructions from the then NDA Government in Delhi and there was no formal court order for the purpose, recalled others who were witness to the trial. While he was being tried in the court of Forest Magistrate at Jammu, says a senior advocate who wished not to be named, the trial court was neither informed nor any permission was sought from it. It was only when court, taking note of newspaper reports about Azhar’s release in exchange for Kandahar hostages, sought his production before it, that the prosecution withdrew the jail break charges against him.

Says then Kot Bhalwal jail superintendent Chanchal Singh (now retired): “We only received instructions from the Government to hand over his custody to the police. Then DIG S P Vaid (now IG, Railways and Crime) along with a police party came to the jail to take Azhar Masood’s custody.” They were carrying no court orders.

Vaid confirmed that he had received instructions from the Union Home Ministry to take Azhar’s custody. Educated and widely travelled, Azhar was shrewd and knew how to deal with any situation. A motivator and efficient fund raiser, he was credited with bringing together Valley’s two frontline terrorist outfits — Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Jehad-i-Islami — in 1993.

After he was shifted from Srinagar to the Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu, Azhar remained confined to his cell except for court appearances, recalls Chanchal Singh. Known inside the jail as a cool and calm person, he never mixed up with other terrorists lodged there and spent his time either praying, reading newspapers or listening to a transistor, Singh recalls.

However, says Chatta, “despite being a scholarly person, he was a fanatic. While he always used to question India’s right to rule Kashmir, he accused many a Kashmiri separatist leader of hurting the Kashmir cause”. Even when the world was discussing the terrorists’ demand for his release in exchange of passengers of the hijacked IC-814 flight — fourth attempt by terrorists to secure his release — there was no sign of tension around Azhar.

However, the day he became sure of his release, say the jail staff, his attitude changed. “His face was not covered when he was brought out of jail. I asked the jail staff about it and they told me that he was not allowing them to cover his face,” recalls Vaid, who took Azhar’s custody from jail staff before making him board a special Delhi-bound plane for his onward journey to Kandahar.

Vaid says he also objected to a police attempt to handcuff him from behind. “However, we did not listen to him and did our work,” he added.

Azhar would get on that plane, fly to Kandahar and, after some time, emerge as one of the fountainheads of terror in India.

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