New Delhi: The home ministry on Monday gave the National Investigation Agency (NIA) permission to file a chargesheet against Masood Azhar, chief of Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant group, and three other individuals in connection with the attack on the Indian Air Force station in Pathankot in January this year.
Ministry officials said the move would enable them to chargesheet and prosecute Azhar under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which in turn would strengthen India’s case for declaring Azhar a UN-designated terrorist.
Just last month, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup, without naming China, said that one country had put a “technical hold” on the matter—a move that could send a dangerous signal.
“We conveyed to the UN Sanctions Committee that it is expected to proscribe Azhar under the 1267 Sanction Regime on the basis of our submission. Such a designation would help send a strong signal to all terror groups across the world that the international community is no longer going to pursue, or tolerate, selective approaches to terrorism,” Swarup said.
In January, this year, a group of heavily armed men entered the Pathankot Air Force Station in Punjab and killed seven security personnel. The NIA approached the home ministry early in November for permission to prosecute Azhar, who had been identified as the handler of the Pathankot attackers.
Masood Azhar first came to the notice of Indian authorities in 1993 when he came into contact with leaders of Al-Itihaad Al-Islamiya, an Al Qaeda-aligned Somali terror group which had sought money and recruits from Harkat-ul-Mujahidin, a terrorist group based in Pakistan with which Masood was closely associated.
In 1994, Azhar surfaced in Kashmir to act as a mediator between various feuding factions of terrorist groups active in the state, following which he was arrested in February 1994. However, he was released in 2000 in exchange for hostages after his brother Abdul Rauf, along with a few others, hijacked an Indian Airlines plane on 24 December 1999 and took it to Kandahar in Afghanistan, which was then under the control of the Taliban.