Masood Azhar back in business, says Pakistani paper


Islamabad: One of South Asia’s most dreaded terrorists, Maulana Masood Azhar, is back in the business, and recruiting terrorists and promoting terrorism, in all probability targeted at India, according to a leading Pakistani newspaper Wednesday.

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In a report titled ‘Masood Azhar of Jaish back in business’, The News said: “The dreaded Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) is back in business and has restarted recruitment and fund-raising activities in Pakistan, a move timed precisely with the recent progress in the peace talks between India and Pakistan.”

Quoting “well informed militant circles”, the newspaper said: “Maulana Masood Azhar has already returned to Bahawalpur and resumed his jehadi activities by reactivating the Jaish headquarters in the Model Town area. The JeM nerve center openly runs a grand religious seminary – Usman-o-Ali – where extremist interpretation of Islam is taught to hundreds of children.”

The Lahore datelined report said Masood Azhar had earlier abandoned his Jaish headquarters in the Model Town of Bahawalpur and temporarily shifted his base to South Waziristan in the wake of the mounting Indian pressure for his extradition.

Masood Azhar, who was released from a Jammu jail in exchange for the hijacked passengers and crew of Indian airliner IC 814 in December 1999 and flown to Kandahar, Afghanistan, along with two other terrorists, had set up the Jaish in February 2000.

The terrorist ideologue had sponsored the attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly in October 2001 and his group in partnership with the Lashkar-e-Taiba had attacked the Indian Parliament House on Dec 13, 2001.

The Pakistani newspaper said: “In December 2008, almost a week after the 26/11 terror attacks in the Indian commercial capital of Mumbai, the Pakistani authorities had placed restrictions on Masood Azhar’s movements by confining him to his multi-storeyed concrete compound in the Model Town area of Bahawalpur, housing hundreds of armed men.”

In the second week of April 2009, Masood Azhar was declared officially missing from Pakistan after Interior Minister Rehman Malik claimed that he was not in Pakistan and that Islamabad would not provide protection and refuge to any criminal.

According to the newspaper, then Indian external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee had ridiculed Pakistan for denying the “obvious presence” of the Jaish chief, saying: “India had several times got different information from Pakistan on Masood Azhar and it was not unusual to hear such denials from Pakistani officials.”

The newspaper went on to recall the history and the international concerns about Masood Azhar and his activities.

It said: “International media recently expressed fears that the headquarters of the jehadi group could contain underground bunkers and tunnels, as had been the case with the Lal Masjid-run Jamia Fareedia and Jamia Hafsa schools in Islamabad, which were eventually destroyed in a massive military operation carried out by the Pakistan Army in July 2007.”