ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is yet to confirm that Maulana Masood Azhar, leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, has been detained, Indian officials said. Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is briefing Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue. This afternoon, Pakistan-based Geo TV reported that Azhar, 47, chief of the terror group blamed for the recent attack on Pathankot Air Force base, was taken into “protective custody” two days ago.
- “There has been no official confirmation of the Jaish chief’s arrest,” foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said late this evening.
- “Cannot confirm that Masood Azhar has been detained… Jaish offices raided and several men have been held,” Pakistan minister Mohammad Zubair has told NDTV.
- Masood Azhar, his brother Abdur Rauf and brother-in-law Ashfaq Ahmed were reportedly detained in raids which, sources say, took place in Islamabad on Monday.
- Abdur Rauf and Ashfaq Ahmed were two of the persons named by India as handlers to the six terrorists who attacked the Pathankot base on January 2. Sources say they were questioned by interrogators from “3 am to 3 pm” before being taken into custody.
- Islamabad has also said it is considering sending a team to investigate the Pathankot attack in what many see as an attempt to salvage peace moves with India.
- India had strongly suggested that unless Pakistan acts against those responsible for the attacks, it will not go ahead with the Foreign Secretary talks that were to be held this week.
- Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked Nawaz Sharif for prompt and decisive action on the basis of specific evidence. Mr Sharif then set up a committee of his top intel, army and government officers to investigate India’s allegations.
- Years ago, Pakistan refused to hand over Azhar to India after he was named as the prime suspect in the 2001 attack on Parliament. He has since been confined to to his home in Bhawalpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Indian intelligence officials pointed out renewed activity by him in 2014, when he addressed a large public rally via phone.
- Azhar was arrested in Kashmir in 1994 while travelling on a forged Portuguese passport. India freed him and two other jailed Pakistani terrorists in 1999 in return for 155 passengers held hostage in an Indian Airlines aircraft that was hijacked to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
- One of the other freed terrorists was British-born Omar Sheikh, a close associate of Azhar who was later convicted in the 2002 abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. After his release, Azhar set up the Jaish to fight Indian forces in Kashmir.