Architect of Kandahar hijack, Parliament attack was IAF target

  • Maulana Yususf Azhar was Maulana Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law
  • Maulana Yususf Azhar changed the face of the JeM in Pakistan and in India

New Delhi: On 24 December 1999, as the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 entered Indian airspace at 5:30 pm from Kathmandu, its fate had been re-written by Ustad Ghauri. With the flight ultimately being made to land in Kandahar in Afghanistan, not only did it become one of the most infamous hijackings in the history of Indian aviation, but it gave a new lease of life to the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

Ustad Ghauri orchestrated and carried out the hijacking, which ultimately saw India release Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmad Zargar and Omar Saeed Sheikh, in exchange for the safety of the 176 passengers on board.

And as Masood Azhar walked away a free man, Ustad Ghauri picked up the pieces, carrying out the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001.

And thus a low-key man – Maulana Yusuf Azhar, who went by the alias of Ustad Ghauri – who was Maulana Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law, changed the face of the JeM in Pakistan and in India.

The next year, in 2000, following a request by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Interpol issued a red corner notice (RCN) against Yusuf Azhar. Of “sturdy build," Azhar is said to hail from Karachi in Pakistan.

While he has been wanted for the last 19 years by the Interpol for “hijacking, kidnapping and murder," Azhar, like his brother-in-law, was sheltered by the neighbor country, establishing and running the Balakot training camp in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region in Pakistan, which trained thousands of Jaish recruits in armed warfare, akin to the style of training given to the Taliban recruits in Afghanistan.

In the early hours of Tuesday, however, not only did the Indian Air Force raze to the ground the entire Balakot centre of the JeM, but also eliminated Azhar, a development that is only going to spell trouble in future.

Officials familiar with the developments concurred that “if reports of Yusuf Azhar’s deaths were to be believed," it would take the tally of Masood Azhar’s kin killed by India to three, including his nephews Talha Rashid and Usman Ibrahim, who had been killed last year in Kashmir – a factor which would only further propel the JeM to designing more lethal strikes.

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