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#RaisinaExplainer: Masood Azhar – Fountainhead of terrorism

by | Sep 20, 2022 | Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, South Asia

New Delhi: Masood Azhar, the most wanted terrorist and head of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad or Army of Prophet, hardly needs any introduction. His span of making international headlines over the last three decades of dreadful attacks against civilians, attack on India’s Parliament, J&K Assembly, and numerous fidayeen attacks on security positions while tapering remains worrisome. […]
"terrorists at Mumbai with AK 47" by dotcompals is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

New Delhi: Masood Azhar, the most wanted terrorist and head of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad or Army of Prophet, hardly needs any introduction. His span of making international headlines over the last three decades of dreadful attacks against civilians, attack on India’s Parliament, J&K Assembly, and numerous fidayeen attacks on security positions while tapering remains worrisome. Azhar, the most wanted is absconding, missing or being protected? Pakistan says he is in Afghanistan. Afghanistan says he is in Pakistan. China’s failed attempts to veto him as a proclaimed offender at the international multilateral platforms make one frenzy about what is going on. On the other hand, Indian intelligence agencies are of the firm belief that Azhar is hiding in Bahawalpur, Punjab surroundings in Pakistan, in a safe house protected by the State.

To understand more about the indescribable mind of Masood Azhar, one among eleven siblings of a school teacher in Pakistan Punjab, what led him to reach an obscure pinnacle, how State and radicals influenced him to be known as a “global and most wanted terrorist”.

Let us revisit some of the international news headlines, the three decades journey of a terrorist:

15.09.2022: Afghanistan denies the presence of Masood Azhar on its soil after Pak claim by Surinder Singh Oberoi | Sep 15, 2022 | Afghanistan, Asia, India, Pakistan I Relations between Pakistan and the Taliban government have been strained since the group came to power in August 2021

4.09.2022: Pakistan writes to Afghanistan, says find and arrest Masood Azhar
by Our Correspondent | Sep 14, 2022, | Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taliban
Pakistan banned JeM on January 14, 2002, when General Pervez Musharraf was the president, but that has done little to curb its terror activities.

01.05.2019: Masood Azhar, Man Behind Parliament Attack, Pulwama, Blacklisted At UN. A UN Security Council tag subjects Masood Azhar, 50, to assets freeze, travel ban and an arms embargo.

01.05.2019: Masood Azhar was declared a global terrorist by the UN! India wins the big diplomatic battle as China relents. Masood Azhar was declared a global terrorist by the UN: The development can be attributed to India’s diplomatic success as New Delhi managed to pursue other countries especially China, a self-proclaimed all-weather ally of Pakistan.

14 March 2019: China Defends Stand On Masood Azhar At UN: “Time Needed To Study Matter.”This was the fourth time in a decade that China, a strategic ally of Pakistan, blocked the resolution to ban Jaish-e Mohammed chief Masood Azhar

December 1999: There has been an agreement for the release of all the hostages in exchange for three militants namely Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar,” said former national security advisor (NSA) Brajesh Mishra.

Masood Azhar claimed “Gujarati by birth in his Portuguese passport, stayed in Delhi hotels in 1994. Masood Azhar, when he first arrived in India in January 1994 and dodged immigration officials” queries about his Portuguese passport by claiming he was a “Gujarati by birth”. The first stop of Masood Azhar was a hotel in Delhi’s posh Chanakyapuri area, which houses the diplomatic enclave,

16.02.2019: CRPF Pulwama attack: The attack on the CRPF convoy took place on Thursday when a JeM suicide bomber rammed a vehicle carrying explosives into their bus. A total of 40 soldiers were martyred in one of the worst terror attacks in Kashmir

27.08.2020: The NIA found that JeM leadership consisting of Masood Azhar, Rouf Asgar and Ammar Alvi alias Chacha alias Chota Masood handled the operation by continuously giving directions and guidance to the Pakistani JeM infiltrators before and after the attack. Pulwama terror attack charge sheet Masood Azhar nephew Mohammed Umar Farooq bank account money transferred | India News – India TV (indiatvnews.com)

…and so on. The news related to terrorist Masood Azhar never dies. The above mentioned is an iota of the headlines that Masood Azhar attracted in the leading newspapers and television across the globe. Perhaps the longest span of a living terrorist, more than 30 years and still hiding and kicking despite global warrant and declared UN global terrorist.

Making of a terrorist
Since 1994, when Masood Azhar, alias Vali Adam Issa. (Passport name) was arrested in South Kashmir with a duplicate Portuguese passport, who would have thought that a pot-bellied bespectacled, soft-spoken scary, misguided extremist would turn into a headache for India and the globe?
No one would have thought that chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) Masood Azhar, the son of a retired school headmaster in Pakistan’s Bahawalpur who visited India to iron out differences between armed militant group Harkat-ul-Ansar’s feuding factions of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (as infight in the Harkat-ul-Ansar led to a split in the Deobandi armed militant group), would one day turn out to be the most wanted terrorist of the world.

According to the intelligence agency’s officers, Masood first arrived in India from Bangladesh in January 1994 on a Portuguese passport. Masood stayed in Delhi’s Chanakyapuri area, which houses the diplomatic enclave. He travelled to Lucknow, Saharanpur, and Darul-Uloom Deoband before landing in Kashmir.
It was February 1994, when days are shorter and it is quite cold in Kashmir when the security forces arrested a pot belly Portuguese visitor travelling on a tuk-tuk rickshaw in South Kashmir, accompanying another dreaded terrorist, Sajjad Afghani. It was a routine drop-gate checking by the paramilitary and local police persons that made the two passengers flee the auto rikshaw and a chase by the troops arrested the duo.

They were taken to Papa 2 interrogation centre in Srinagar and under the supervision of commandant Rajinder Mani, the two were interrogated and finally paraded before the media to showcase how foreign Pakistani militants were joining Kashmiri militants. Being in a high-profile foreign militant category, the two were shifted to Tihar jail and then to Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu, where a failed attempt to escape from the jail through a tunnel killed Sajjad Afghani.

The importance of Masood Azhar came under lens only when his name was included in the list given by Harkat-ul-Ansar in exchange for/the release of two foreign visitors kidnapped in the Pahalgam area, one being the son of a prominent foreign correspondent based in Delhi.

In the second kidnapping of five foreign tourists in July 1995, the name Masood Azhar again appeared on the list. However, the authorities never scummed to the pressure tactics of the militants and whereabout of five foreign tourists remain a mystery till today, perhaps killed by another hard-line faction of Harkat and buried in some jungle, who called themselves “Al Faran” but authorities knew it was Harkat-ul-Ansar. Here the name of another dreaded terrorist called Hamid Turkey emerged as the leader of Al Faran, originally to HUA who was killed in another encounter in South Kashmir.

“Jaish-e-Mohammad-Chief-Maulana-Masood-Azhar-620×400” by bmnnetwork is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The tenure of Masood Azhar in Kotbalwal jail (April 1994 to December 1999) in itself was quite interesting where jail authorities said that he was always found in the company of other inmates. No one doubted him as a tough terrorist but respected him as a religious lazy zealot, who would intermittently, act as Imam for prayers. Perhaps he was using the time in creating his network with the jailed local Kashmiri militants.

When five foreign tourists were kidnapped, the Indian authorities allowed the foreign embassies representatives of the US, UK, and Germany to interact with these foreign militants like Sajjad Afghani and Masood Azhar and several other Pakistani militants to help in the release of the hostages.
While talking to some of the police persons who met him in the jail, Azar always believed that he will be out of jail, but would never share details about how. Four years later, a tunnel was dug in Kot Balwal jail to make Azhar escape. However, it could not happen because of Azhar’s heavy body build. The terrorist was overweight and had faced difficulty in passing through the tunnel. However, Sajjad Afghani was killed in the process. Finally, the then government in 1999, released Masood Azhar, Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar in exchange for the 155 passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC-814. One of the police officers who was tasked to bring Azhar from Kotbalwal to Jammu airfield said, “it is one of the biggest mistakes releasing Masood. He is arrogant and we will have to pay for it.” But the officer had to follow the orders of New Delhi and his seniors.

Azhar after his release, except for one gathering of celebration of his release, when he was secretary of the Harkat, continues to remain like any foreign militant/terrorist till 2000.

Azhar’s profile grew after he launched a new outfit named, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). This was the beginning of the making of a global terrorist.
On 20 April 2000, JeM carried out the first suicide bombing in Srinagar, exploding a bomb in an Indian army barracks. Some deaths took place but it was an announcement of “suicidal or Fedayeen attacks” in Kashmir.

Indian officials and intelligence agencies claim that they have enough evidence that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies was behind making the organisational and Azhar as Chief of JeM. Azhar, being Deobandi, Sunni was close to the Taliban regime and multiple Sunni sectarian organisations based in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Officials say that profile of JeM grew like anything till they were blacklisted and banned by the UN. The nearly whole family of Azhar was involved in JeM.

Since its inception in 2000, the group carried out several targeted and well-planned attacks in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It portrayed Kashmir as a “gateway” to the entire India for establishing Islamic rule, The organisation brought strength to the radical ideology in Kashmir. Several analysts state that JeM was created with the support of Pakistan’s ISI and the same madrasas that created Mullah Omar of the Taliban to fight in Kashmir. The JeM has been banned in Pakistan since 2002 but resurfaced under other names.

Jaish-e-Mohammed is viewed as the deadliest radical militant group with several high-profile attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly, Parliament attacks, in 2016, Pathankot airbase attack, attack on the Indian Mission in Mazar-i-Sharief, the Uri attack in 2016 and the Pulwama attack in 2019, etc…each of which has had strategic consequences for India and Pakistan relations.

India directly blamed Pakistan for the attack and asked global actors to pressurise Pakistan to arrest the main mastermind of the attacks and hand them over to India. Under global pressure, Pakistan did arrest a few members of Jaish in connection with the attack but were soon released.

Trails of Azhar’s family continue to haunt Kashmir
Four of his close relatives, nephews and first relations, were killed in Jammu and Kashmir in different encounters, who came to Kashmir to fulfil Azhar’s plan of destruction and Jihad in Kashmir.

On 29 October 2018, Mohammad Usman, the nephew of Maulana Masood Azhar was killed in a gunbattle in Kashmir along with two local militants. Troops identified him as the local chief of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad and the killing of Azhar’s high-profile nephew as “the biggest success for the forces in this year.

“Usman was the son of Azhar’s elder brother Ibrahim, who was involved in the hijack of the IC-814 in 1999. Usman is believed to have infiltrated the Valley in 2017. He had a four-member sniper cell squad who all were killed. Troops were baffled that the sniper shooting incidents were with precision using NATO grade weapon which has a range of around 170 meters.

On 3 April 2019 Jaish-e-Mohammed accepted that Masood Azhar’s nephew, Mohammad Umar was killed in a gun battle. A namaz-e-Janazah (funeral prayer) in absence was held for Umar in Pakistan.

July 31, 2021, Mohammed Ismail Alvi alias Lamboo alias Adnan, the third nephew of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar, was gunned down by security forces in J&K’s Awantipora. He was an IED Expert and was suspected to be behind the Pulwama attack which had claimed the lives of 40 CRPF personnel in 2019.

Mohammed Ismail, also known as Abu Saifullah and ‘Fauji Bhai’, was for some time the main JeM commander in Kashmir. His role was under the scanner for attacks in Pulwama in 2020 and 2019. According to the intelligence agencies, Mohammed Ismail had infiltrated the Indian side in January 2017 and was carrying out terrorist activities in Awantipora in Pulwama and Anantnag.

Around 2016,2017 and 2018, Jem had increased specific attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and recruited several locals into their organisation increasing it footprint, mistly in South Kashmir. Now, most of its cadre are working jointly with the LeT under the new name “The Resistance front.”

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a 13,500-page charge sheet in the Pulwama terror attack case, which reveals Mohammed Umar Farooq, the nephew of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, had received Rs 10 lakh in his bank accounts in Pakistan to execute the Pulwama terror attack. The attack, in February 2019, claimed the lives of 40 CRPF jawans. According to the charge sheet, Rs 10 lakh in Pakistani currency was credited into three accounts of Farooq, the main accused in the suicide attack case who was later killed in an encounter with security forces.

Conclusions

If we need to learn from history, Masood Azhar is one more “strategic appeal” created by the shadow agencies and influential radical organisations in the region, against India whose utility is over but its brand has been established. Masood being from the influential Deoband Sunni madrassa was at home with Islamic organisations in Afghanistan including the Taliban (when they were not in rule), Haqqani group and Al Qaida. They all invested in Masood and his organisation in training, finance and support. His extended family and clan today have huge assets and influence in the dark world even though several of Jaish and some associated organisations, asserts, property and bank accounts were frozen after the UN declared Masood Azhar an international terrorist.

Political observers believe Masood Azhar was one more motivator and influencer, if not a good fighter but was a good speaker on religious discourse. Till 2001, Masood either lived in India’s jail or after his release as a preacher in Pakistan.

Once he was declared as chief of yet another radical organisation, Jaish-e-Mohammad, his brand, the profile of his days in Indian jails, and his release in exchange for highjacked prisoners was exploited. Delivery of violence and preparing suicidal squads in the name of religion in itself is a qualification in the terrorist world

His brand amongst the recruits and religious zealots was more sellable in the Caliph and underground world. Azhar equally took advantage of his experience, family and shadow agencies and expanded his paraphernalia through a publication house, video production, training centre, producer of suicidal bombers, and a profile of an influencer religious scholar in the radical and terrorist world.

Today, he may not have direct support from anyone but indirectly, he manages his empire through a proxy in the Bahawalpur area. He and his organisation are a symbol of “religious sanctioned violence” including producer of “Fidayeen or suicidal human bombs” and hence a Fountainhead of radical terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.
He created enough terror in J&K and beyond through his suicidal attacks.
He is still in hiding, perhaps being safeguarded by vestigial interested State actors, and hence more propaganda on his name, his links with other known global terrorist organisations, his quality and as a mobilizer continues.

Azhar survivor for 30 years in an extremely volatile region and under a ruthless intelligence agency in itself speaks about how he is maintaining a triangular balance between the State agencies, Pakistan religious organisation and global Islamic organisations dodging his arrest as a proclaimed global terrorist.

Surinder Singh Oberoi
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