Kandahar Hijacker Yusuf Azhar’s Camp Destroyed by IAF: Who Is He?
Giving a briefing on the air strikes carried out by the Indian Air Force across the LoC on Tuesday, 26 February, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said that India struck the "biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot”, adding that the facility, purportedly housing over 200 terrorists, was headed by Masood Azhar's brother-in-law.
While the JeM chief’s brother-in-law was identified as Maulana Yusuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri alias Mohammad Salim), it is not clear yet whether he was among those killed in the IAF strike.
Notably, Yusuf Azhar's name has popped up in one of the most infamous hijacking incidents in the past – that of IC 814 in Afghanistan’s Kandahar in December 1999. Yusuf is said to have played a key role in the hijacking.
The hijacking conspiracy was successful in securing the release of Masood Azhar, along with two other terrorists, in exchange for the more than 170 passengers who were on the flight.
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The brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, said to be hailing from Karachi, also had a red corner notice opened against him by the Interpol in 2002, according to The Hindu. Yusuf's name also featured in the list of 20 fugitives, which India gave to Pakistan in 2002. He is said to be fluent in Urdu and Hindi.
According to an ex-intelligence official cited by The Hindu, Yusuf Azhar had converted to Islam from Hinduism and was married to the JeM chief's sister.
Dubbing the functioning of the JeM as that of a "family enterprise", the former official further elaborated on the hierarchy within the terror group, saying:
“After (Masood) Azhar, his brothers, Rauf and Ibrahim, are the most important functionaries. The next in line is Yusuf. While the main recruiter continues to be Masood Azhar, Yusuf’s job is to mainly train recruits. Masood likes to remain in the background post-2001 Parliament attack.”Ex-intelligence official to The Hindu
According to The Indian Express, Yusuf Azhar already faces several cases of kidnapping and murder in India. He had also purportedly travelled to India and Nepal to hatch the IC 814 hijacking plot.
In February 2008, while three people were sentenced to life imprisonment in the hijacking case, seven other accused, including Yusuf Azhar, remained absconding. Apart from Yusuf, another prominent accused in the hijacking case was Abdul Rauf, who is also Azhar’s brother.
India has been seeking extradition of these terrorists from Pakistan, citing the SAARC and Hague agreements, under which Islamabad is obligated to extradite them, according to CBI sources.
The CBI, which had approached Pakistani authorities through the Ministry of External Affairs, seeking the extradition of five persons, has, however, not received any response, PTI reported.
On Tuesday, 26 February, 12 Mirage 2000 Indian Fighter jets dropped 1,000 kg bombs destroying terror camps across the LoC early in the morning. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said that a large of number of JeM terrorists, trainers and senior commanders were eliminated in these strikes.
(With inputs from The Hindu, The Indian Express and PTI)