Maulana Masood Azhar
Pakistan's militant Jaish-e-Mohammad party chief Maulana Masood AzharReuters

Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, who is believed to be the mastermind behind the Pathankot terror attack, is in "protective custody", the Punjab law minister in Pakistan has said. The minister said that Azhar will be arrested only if his involvement in the Pathankot attack is proved, Dawn News reported. 

Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah's statement to the Pakistani news channel on Thursday came hours after Pakistan's foreign office said that it was not aware of the arrest of the JeM leader. 

However, Jaish-e-Mohammed released a statement in urdu on Thursday, in which it claimed that the arrest never happened. 

"Disbelievers and hypocrites across the world are celebrating our arrest, but the arrest never happened," the group said in a statement on Facebook, according to The Indian Express

"Even if they happen, what difference will it make? No difference, except one. Allah willing, there will be more enthusiasm and excitement among people of the faith, and the work of jihad will gather more strength," JeM said.

India has sought confirmation on Azhar's arrest after Pakistan claimed on Wednesday that it had arrested three leaders of the terror group in connection to the Pathankot attack. 

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had ordered the formation of a joint investigation committee to look into the Pathankot attack, which India believes was perpetrated by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed. 

Who is Masood Azhar?

Azhar had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and then went on to join Harkat-ul-Ansar -- a Pakistan based Islamic militant outift. As the general secretary of the group, he brought several foreign fighters to Kashmir, including war veterans from Afghanistan, according to The Indian Express.

In 1994, Azhar landed in Delhi's international airport and went on to visit the site of the demolished Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The demolition of the 16th century mosque was said to have made Azhar turn his attention to India, according to Hindustan Times.

Azhar was nabbed by Indian officials when he was in Srinagar just a few days after he arrived in India.

He was released on 31 December, 1999, after an Air India plane to Kandahar was hijacked. Azhar was freed along with two terrorists in exchange for the 155 passengers on board the flight.

A year after his release, Azhar founded Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which means the Army of the Prophet.