Masood Azhar, chief of terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed which has claimed responsibility for the Pulwama suicide attack, is reportedly dead days after the Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted airstrikes on terror camps in Pakistan's Balakot. However, there was no confirmation from any authoritative sources. Jaish-e-Mohammed had identified suicide bomber Adil Ahmad Dar as the one who carried out the attack on February 14 that claimed the lives of 40 CRPF jawans. In an unverified 10-minute video recorded before the attack, Dar also mentioned that many more people like him were ready to 'follow the same path'.
Amid growing pressure to show the damage caused by IAF's precision bombing on the Jaish-e-Mohammed training facility, India is contemplating releasing evidence in the days to come to silence those doubting the impact. The IAF had declared that disclosing proof of the air strike impact was a call to be taken by the government even though electronic evidence gathered by radar images was sufficient to establish the damage caused to the structures.
Though there was no credible confirmation about the number of casualties, and Pakistani establishment remaining in denial mode, a video clip of Masood Azhar's brother Maulana Ammar had surfaced on Saturday where he can be heard accepting that the Balakot camp had taken a hit. The recording is said to be from a public function organized in Peshawar after the air strike.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also accepted on television that Masood Azhar was in Pakistan and that he was not well. Another report from Islamabad said the JeM founder was undergoing dialysis in a Pakistan army hospital. Reports claimed that after getting seriously injured in the air strike, Masood Azhar died in a hospital.
Masood Azhar was suspected to be afflicted with renal failure and is under regular dialysis at an army hospital in Rawalpindi in Pakistan, officials said on Saturday.
Qureshi said on Thursday: "He is in Pakistan, according to my information. He is unwell to the extent that he can't leave his house, because he's really unwell".
The Jaish-e-Mohammad chief was a close associate of Osama bin Laden, terror motivator in several African countries and also known by many as the Pakistani cleric who brought jihad into the religious discourse at mosques in the UK, the official said.
The JeM was reactivated in Jammu and Kashmir in 2014, a year after the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. The group had constituted a special 'Afzal Guru squad' to avenge his hanging.
The influence of the 50-year-old overweight terrorist mastermind was so huge that, when he was released by India in exchange for freeing the hijacked Indian Airlines aircraft IC-814 on December 31, 1999 in Kandahar, Laden hosted a banquet for him the same night.
In the banquet, Laden recalled how he and Azhar had first worked together in 1993, the official said.
Azhar was arrested for preaching jihad in Jammu and Kashmir in 1994. One of his British recruits, Omar Shaikh, as a member of the terrorist group Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA), kidnapped four western tourists in India in 1994 in order to secure the release of Azhar. However, security agencies succeeded in releasing the hostages and arresting Shaikh.
Again in 1995, five western tourists were kidnapped by HuA and eventually killed in order to gain the release of Azhar.
(With agency inputs)