Pakistan has placed Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar in "protective custody," Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz reportedly said Monday. Aziz also confirmed that one of the cellphone numbers linked to a Pathankot attacker was traced to JeM's headquarters in Bahawalpur.
Aziz told India Today news channel that Azhar had been placed under detention since Jan.14, days after the Jan.2 Pathankot terror attack. Indian authorities believe Azhar masterminded the attack that left seven Indian security personnel dead.
"Whenever a crime happens across the border, it is much more difficult to pursue the legal requirements because we don't have the locations or evidence. The special investigation team had to investigate the mobile numbers or whatever links were available and find out who could be behind the attack," the Pakistani official said.
This was the first such official confirmation from Pakistan that Azhar is in custody, especially after earlier reports had suggested that he had gone "missing," and that Pakistani officials had found "no evidence" against him in connection with the terror attack.
A special investigation team (SIT) constituted by Pakistan is likely to come to India in a few days to visit Pathankot.
Who is Masood Azhar?
Azhar had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and then gone 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 Dec. 31, 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 the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which means the Army of the Prophet.