Born in July 10, 1968 in Bahawalpur, in the central Pakistani province of Punjab, Maulana Azhar heads Jaish-e-Mohammad, which is allegedly involved in slew of attacks in India that even include the attack on the parliament in December 2001. He got his early education from Jamia Uloom-i-Islami, near Karachi, which is considered as one of the leading religious universities of Pakistan.
The Jaish-e-Mohammad founder, after finishing his education joined the institute as a teacher and is believed to have written several books and even headed a editorial team of a magazine.
Maulana Masood Azhar is a religious leader who supports Muslim separatists fighting in Indian-administered Kashmir. He features on India’s most wanted list of 20 people it accuses of terrorism. The group he leads, Jaish-e-Mohammad, is accused of a string of deadly attacks on Indian targets, including one on parliament in Delhi in December 2001.
Maulana Azhar was detained for a year by authorities in Pakistan in connection with that attack, but never formally charged. The Lahore High Court ordered an end to his house arrest on 14 December 2002.
Three years earlier, he was freed from an Indian prison in exchange for passengers on a hijacked Indian Airlines jet. His brother, Ibrahim, is thought to have been one of the hijackers.
Maulana Azhar set up Jaish-e-Mohammad in early 2000, shortly after being set free by India. Until then he had denied belonging to any group and his family maintained he was a religious scholar. India arrested him in 1994, and accused him of being a member of the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, one of the leading militant groups in Kashmir.
In 1995 a group, which kidnapped six Western tourists, also called for his release. One of the hostages, a Norwegian was killed, one escaped and the remainder are missing but feared dead.
The tourists were trekking in Kashmir’s Pahalgam district when they were captured. Indian security officials say Maulana Masood Azhar comes from a rich land-owning family in Pakistan.
He was born in 1968 in Bahawalpur, in the central Pakistani province of Punjab. He received his Islamic education at Jamia Uloom-i-Islami, near Karachi, which has a reputation as one of Pakistan’s leading religious universities.
After completing his education, he became a teacher at the institute for several years, a former colleague told the AFP news agency.
He went on to write several Islamic books and became editor of a religious magazine. His family say that when he was arrested he was in India working for the magazine.
Maulana Masood Azhar’s nefarious activities
He was arrested by India in 1994 for being a member of Harkat-ul Mujahideen-a militant group who were active in Kashmir.
Azhar was later freed by Indian authorities along with two other terrorists in exchange for passengers of an Indian Airlines flight IC814 hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar in 1999.
Soon after his release, Maulana Masood Azhar founded Jaish-e-Mohammad in 2000. And in December 2001, Azhar’s organization, Jaish-e-Mohammad, was accused of a string of deadly attacks on Indian targets, including one on the Parliament in Delhi. During the attack, Azhar was in Pakistan and detained by Pakistan authorities in connection with the attack on India Parliament, but could not be formally charged for the same.
Thus, the Lahore High Court ordered an end to his house arrest on December 14, 2002.
Azhar’s relation with the Pakistani establishment started deteriorating in the wake of American allegations about his Al-Qaida links and because of the belief that he had been providing logistical support to fugitive Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
Following the January 2002 kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl by Sheikh Ahmed Saeed Omar, a close aide of Azhar, the US had sought the custody of the Jaish chief, saying authorities wanted to file charges against him for his involvement in the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight, which had an American citizen on board.
However, Pakistani authorities had turned down the US demand, saying Azhar was not a hijacker and his incarceration in India had been “illegal”.
And now because of all these activities, Maulana Masood Azhar’s name features on India’s most wanted list of 20 people that it wants Pakistan to hand it over to them.
Activities in Somalia
Azhar confessed that in 1993 he traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to meet with leaders of al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, an al-Qaeda-aligned Somali group, who had requested money and recruits from Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). Indian intelligence officials believe that he made at least three trips to Somalia and that he also helped bring Yemeni mercenaries to Somalia.
Activities in the UK
In August 1993 Azhar entered the UK for a speaking, fundraising, and recruitment tour. His message of jihad was given at some of Britain’s most prestigious Islamic institutions including the Darul Uloom Bury seminary, Zakariya Mosque, Madina Masjid in Blackburn and Burnley, and Jamia Masjid. His message was that “substantial proportion of the Koran had been devoted to ‘killing for the sake of Allah’ and that a substantial volume of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad were on the issue of jihad.”
Azhar made contacts in Britain who helped to provide training and logistical support the terror plots including “7/7, 21/7 and the attempt in 2006 to smuggle liquid bomb-making substances on to transatlantic airlines.”
What have India and Pakistan said?
India frequently asks its neighbour to extradite Mr Azhar – reportedly in the eastern Pakistani province of Punjab – but Pakistan refuses, saying there is a lack of proof against him. New Delhi has also called on the UN to list Mr Azhar as a global terrorist, but Pakistan’s close ally China continues to block the move.
Speaking after the Pulwama attack, India’s foreign ministry demanded that Pakistan “stop supporting terrorists and terror groups operating from their territory, and dismantle the infrastructure operated by terrorist outfits to launch attacks in other countries”.
But Pakistan has condemned any suggestion it is linked to the attack.
“We have always condemned acts of violence anywhere in the world,” a foreign office spokesman said.
- India says the group and its leader, Masood Azhar, enjoy free rein in Pakistan, and demands that Pakistan acts to stop militant groups operating from its soil.
- India has blamed Jaish for a series of attacks including a 2001 raid on its parliament in New Delhi that led to India mobilising its military on the border, bringing the foes to the brink of a fourth war.
- Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), or Army of Mohammad, has ties to other Sunni militant groups in Pakistan such as Lashka-e-Taiba (LeT) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. It was banned in Pakistan in 2002 but U.S. authorities say it still operates there openly.
- Founded in 2000 after the release of Azhar from an Indian prison in exchange for 155 hostages from a hijacked Indian Airlines plane, it has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings in Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, which is also claimed by Pakistan.
- The group, which aims to unite Kashmir with Pakistan, has repeatedly caused tension between India and Pakistan. Along with LeT, it was involved in attacks in 2001 on the Indian parliament and the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly building.
- Pakistan rejects Indian accusations that it harbours and sustains the group. Pakistani authorities have linked JeM with two assassination attempts on former President Pervez Musharraf in 2003 as well as the kidnap and murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.
- While Kashmir is the focus of Jaish operations, the group was based in Bhawalpur, a dust-blown Pakistani town on the border with India in the south of Punjab province. Media reports and Indian intelligence sources have suggested that a walled headquarters, as well as another large premises on the outskirts of the city, are used to recruit and train youngsters from the impoverished region.
- The Jaish is listed as one of 33 banned organisations by Pakistan’s National Counter-Terrorism Authority, which states on its website that the ban came on Jan. 14, 2002. But the group has never hidden its existence, frequently issuing videos threatening India, and also the United States.
- After a period of silence, the portly Azhar surfaced in a video in 2014, boasting of 300 suicide bombers at his command and threatening to kill Narendra Modi if he became India’s prime minister.
- Despite many rumours, his whereabouts have been officially unknown since a 2016 attack on an Indian air force base in Pathankot in Indian Punjab.
- In 2001, the U.N. Security Council blacklisted the Jaish, tying it to al Qaeda, and accusing it of participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of al Qaeda acts. But the group has floated in and out of the shadows and a U.S. State Department report last year said Pakistan had not cracked down on the activities of JeM and other groups that aim mainly to operate outside its territory.
While Jaish was blacklisted by the U.N. Security Council, India’s efforts to get Azhar sanctioned have been blocked by China, it says. China has put a technical hold each time India has pushed the issue in the council.
UPDATE February 2019: Massive bomb explosion marks deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir in years
On Friday, China said it condemned the latest attack in Kashmir, and noted that Jaish, which claimed the attack, was already on a U.N. sanctions list. As for its leader is concerned, the relevant committee had rules and processes for listing people, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
- (BBC / HT / Goodreadbiography / Reuters)