U.N.-designated terrorist and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azha r has been kept out of public view by Pakistan to evade further sanctions of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). However, the outfit continues to raise funds and indulge in terror activities, according to enforcement agencies.
On January 31, three alleged Jaish terrorists were killed in a police encounter on the Jammu-Srinagar highway. Three more, including one Qari Yasir — said to be involved in the Pulwama attack— were gunned down by security forces on January 25.
After the Pulwama attack in February 2019, Azhar’s movements were restricted. “He currently stays in Rawalpindi and Islamabad safe-houses and has been meeting Taliban and Haqqani network functionaries,” said a senior official. The outfit is raising funds and operating under the direct command of his family members.
Ahead of the FATF review meet (February 16-21), Lashkar-e-Taiba head Hafiz Saeed was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment in Pakistan. “However, Azhar remains at large. The 70-year-old Saeed, who has political ambitions, was designated a global terrorist in December 2008. Azhar, now 51, was included in the list last year,” the official said.
Azhar has been interacting with his followers through text messages. The latest one attributed to him was released on January 30 and circulated among JeM cadres. It targeted the Indian government for counter-terror operations in Kashmir over the past 30 years.
Another message had surfaced hours after the special status of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 was revoked in August last year. The statement was spread via a mobile chat application.
The agencies claim to have recorded the recent activities of the outfit. On January 15, its prominent functionaries attended an event in Markaz Sanan Bil Salma in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Peshawar. The next day, Azhar’s younger brother Talha Saif was present at the release of a book titled “Saifullahi Nisbat,” authored by the outfit’s chief.
Saif addressed the gathering, during which he targeted the “superpowers of the world” for attempts to eliminate the outfit and its chief. He said the JeM Amir (Azhar) had “sacrificed his freedom” for the cause.
In the run-up to the FATF meet, among those arrested by the Pakistani authorities in January was Azhar’s another younger brother Abdul Rauf Asghar, who is the JeM’s operations chief. However, as alleged, he was released later along with some others.
Among those also let off were Masood Ilyas Qasimi, who heads the outfit’s preaching wing, Abdur Rauf (JeM head in Rajanpur), Abu Jundal Shafique (JeM head in Pakistan’s South Punjab), Abdul Mallik Mochi, Qari Zahoor Ahmed and Imdadullah Haidri.
Students roped in
“The cadres have been cautioned against photographing or publicising fund-raising activities on the social media. The JeM’s student wing ‘Al Murabitoon Shoba’ has been roped in to interact with students of various schools and colleges for indoctrination in a clandestine manner,” the official said.
Indian agencies have also shared details with key allies on the Balakot camp that, as confirmed by the then Army chief Bipin Rawat in September 2019, was reactivated just months after the post-Pulwama attack “air strike”. It is headed by Azhar’s brother-in-law Yusuf Azhar, it is alleged.