Islamabad, Jan 13 (IANS) Eleven days after Pakistani terrorists attacked an IAF base in Pathankot, Pakistan said on Wednesday it had detained terrorist leader Maulana Masood Azhar who India says plotted the mayhem.
The Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief, known for his close ties with Pakistani intelligence agencies, was taken to an undisclosed destination and was questioned as part of a crackdown, media reports said.
Also detained were his brother Mufti Abdul Rauf and brother-in-law Ashfaq Ahmad as well as some 10 others, the reports said.
Masood Azhar and two other Pakistani terrorists were freed by India in December 1999 in exchange for the passengers of an Indian Airlines flight hijacked to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
The hijacking, from Kathmandu, was masterminded by a brother of Masood Azhar. Once the three terrorists were handed over to the hijackers in the Taliban-controlled Kandahar, they fled to Pakistan.
Pakistani media quoted unidentified sources as saying that “concerned authorities” interrogated Masood Azhar and the others about the Pathankot attack that left seven security personnel dead.
Pakistan earlier said that several JeM activists had been arrested and its offices sealed as part of an investigation into the suspected Pakistani links to the January 2 terror attack. It was not clear if Masood Azhar was among the arrested or had been merely detained for questioning.
The announcement followed a high-level meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired here on Wednesday to review the progress in the investigation against alleged Pakistani masterminds of the terror attack. Army chief General Raheel Sharif, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar and many senior government figures attended the meet.
India says all six terrorists who raided the IAF base and got killed were Pakistanis and were allied to the JeM. India later said it had delivered “actionable intelligence” for Pakistan to act against the attack plotters.
A Pakistani government statement said considerable progress had been made in the probe “against terrorist elements reportedly linked to the Pathankot incident.
“In the spirit of the cooperative approach, it was also decided that in order to carry the process forward, additional information would be required, for which the government of Pakistan is considering to send a SIT to Pathankot, in consultation with the government of India.”
The Pathankot attack took place just a week after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Lahore and met Sharif in a bid to push forward the dialogue between the two countries.
News of Wednesday’s arrests came ahead of a scheduled meeting between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan in Islamabad on January 15. Amid doubts, New Delhi has not said if it will take part in the talks.
In Pakistan, Masood Azhar keeps ranting against India.
After the Pathankot attack, the JeM uploaded an audio clip on a website making startling disclosures about how the Pathankot airbase was raided — and how “Indian tanks, military cars and helicopters” were fired at.
Indian defence agencies were also ridiculed for failing to tackle the six “mujaheedin”, and how they fought “for 48 hours in such freezing temperatures, harsh weather conditions, without sleeping, without eating”.