‘Pathankot handler is no. 3 in JeM’

Shahid Latif believed to be group’s launching commander; team formed within NIA to probe outfit.

May 18, 2016 03:02 am | Updated November 17, 2021 04:38 am IST - New Delhi:

A file photo of the soldiers who were guarding the perimeter fence of IAF base in Pathankot. Photo: AP

A file photo of the soldiers who were guarding the perimeter fence of IAF base in Pathankot. Photo: AP

A special team has been created within the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to work on the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and the Jammu and Kashmir police have been asked to pitch in, a senior government official said.

The terror outfit, which carried out the attack on the Pathankot airbase on January 2, has undergone a change in its hierarchy and Shahid Latif (46), who had spent 16 years in an Indian prison, is said to be one of the top three leaders now.

The >group is still headed by Maulana Masood Azhar , who was released by the Indian government following the hijack of IC-814 aircraft in 1999. India’s multiple efforts to have him designated as an international terrorist failed after >China blocked the move in the UN .

In the past two years, JeM’s involvement was found in at least three terror attacks on police stations and army units along the Jammu-Punjab national highway that runs along the border with Pakistan. Officials believe Latif, who is also the launching commander of JeM, operates in the border areas and recruits men to launch terror attacks on Indian soil.

Change in hierarchy

Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar

Latif was first arrested in 1994 from Jammu for his role in a terror strike at the Hazrat Bal shrine in Srinagar and also for ferrying narcotics to fund his activities.

“He was arrested and put in the Jammu jail during the course of the trial. After he was convicted by a court in 1996, he was shifted to a prison in Varanasi. The militancy was at its peak in the valley then and the agencies thought it better to shift him to Varanasi prison,” a senior NIA official said.

Latif was put in solitary confinement there, and, in 2010, he was deported to Pakistan.

The Indian government had written to the Pakistan authorities to confirm his citizenship after he completed his jail term under the Terrorist Activities Disruption Act (TADA).

After Pakistan responded that Latif was their citizen, he was deported through the Wagah-Attari border along with 20 other convicted prisoners from Pakistan. India has already sent a letter rogatory to Pakistan seeking further details on Latif.

Guided terrorists

(Photo: PTI)

Officials said it was Latif who had dropped the Pathankot terrorists in an SUV near the Bamiyal border in Punjab and guided them on phone to reach the airbase more than 100 km away.

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