10 July 1968 |
Bahawalpur, Punjab, Pakistan
|Allegiance||Harkat-ul-Ansar, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammad|
Masood Azhar (Urdu: محمد مسعود اظہر) is the founder and leader of the UN-designated terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, active mainly in the Pakistani administered Azad Kashmir. Pakistani authorities took him into 'protective custody' after the Pathankot attack in India, which was widely reported as an "arrest". However he was seen to be free in April 2016. India had listed Masood Azhar as one of its most wanted terrorists due to his history of militant activities.
Azhar was born in Bahawalpur, Punjab on 10 July 1968 as one of ten siblings although some sources list his birth date as 7 August 1968 as the third of 11 children. Azhar's father, Allah Bakhsh Shabbir, was the headmaster at a government-run school, and his family operated a dairy and poultry farm. Azhar studied at the Jamia Uloom ul Islamia Banuri Town in Karachi, where he became involved with Harkat-ul-Ansar. After he suffered injuries in the Soviet-Afghan War, Azhar was chosen as the head of Harkat's department of motivation and became an editor for the Urdu-language Sad’e Mujahidin and the Arabic-language Sawte Kashmir.
Azhar later became the general secretary of Harkat-ul-Ansar and visited many international locations to recruit, to raise funds and to spread the message of Pan-Islamism. Among his destinations were Zambia, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Mongolia, the United Kingdom and Albania.
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."
Arrest in India
In early 1994, Azhar travelled to Srinagar to ease tensions between Harkat-ul-Ansar's feuding factions of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. India arrested him in February and imprisoned him for his terrorist activities with the groups.
In 1995, six foreign tourists were kidnapped in Jammu and Kashmir. The kidnappers, referring to themselves as Al-Faran, included the release of Masood Azhar among their demands. One of the hostages managed to escape, another was found dead on 13 August 1995. The other four were never seen or heard from since 1995.
In December 1999, he was freed by the Indian government in exchange for passengers on the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 (IC814) that had eventually landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which at the time the Taliban controlled. The hijackers of IC814 were led by Masood Azhar's brother, Ibrahim Athar. His release from Kot Bhalwal jail was supervised by an IPS officer, S P Vaid. His younger brother Abdul Rauf Asghar had planned this attack. Once Masood Azhar was handed over to the hijackers, they fled to Pakistani territory. Pakistan had said the hijackers would be arrested if found, a difficult task given the length of the border and multitude of access points from Afghanistan. The Pakistani government also previously indicated that Azhar would be allowed to return home since he did not face any charges there.
Shortly after his release, Azhar made a public address to an estimated 10,000 people in Karachi. He proclaimed, "I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed India," vowing to liberate the Kashmir region from Indian rule.
Masood Azhar's outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed allegedly carried out a string of deadly attacks against Indian targets, including the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of a full-scale war. Soon after the Indian parliament attack, Masood Azhar was detained for a year by Pakistani authorities in connection but was never formally charged. The Lahore High Court ordered an end to the house arrest on 14 December 2002, much to the fury of India.
2008 Mumbai attacks
On 7 December 2008, it was claimed that he was among several arrested by the Pakistani government after a military raid on a camp located on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad in connection with the 2008 Mumbai attacks. He continued to live in Bhawalpur. Pakistan's government denied it had arrested Masood Azhar and said it was unaware of his whereabouts  On 26 January 2014, Masood Azhar reappeared after a seclusion of six years. He addressed a rally in Muzaffarabad, calling for the resumption of jihad in Kashmir. His group, Jaish-e-Muhammad, claims he is currently in Srinagar, India.
2016 Pathankot attack
The 2016 Pathankot attack on Indian air base is said to be masterminded by Masood Azhar and his brother. They were in direct touch with terrorists even after the attack had begun. Indian investigative agencies have given dossiers containing proofs of Azhar's complicity in the terror attack and also sough a second ʽred corner noticeʼ from ʽInterpolʼ.
The U.S. Treasury is prohibiting Americans from "engaging in any transactions" with three Pakistan-based militants and a front group. Al Rehmat Trust, called "an operational front" for Jaish-e Mohammed, was designated for providing support to and for acting for or on behalf of that group, and Mohammed Masood Azhar Alvi, Jaish-e Mohammed's founder and leader, was designated for acting on behalf of the group.
China moved to protect Azhar again in October 2016 when it blocked India's appeal to the United Nations to label him as a terrorist. China also blocked US move to get Masood Azhar banned by UN in February 2017.
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