Masood Azhar — founder of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammed, one of the most wanted men on the list of 20 given to Pakistan and prime accused in the December 1999 Indian Airlines IC-814 hijack, the blasts at the J&K Assembly and the 2001 Parliament attack — is a free man in India.
Hours before Azhar was set free from Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal Jail on December 31, 1999, all cases against him were withdrawn by the J&K government on the instructions of the NDA government at the Centre.
Azhar and two other terrorists — Al-Umar Mujahideen chief Mushtaq Zargar and Ahmad Omar Sayeed Sheikh, now in a Pakistani prison for killing Daniel Pearl — were released in exchange for over 180 hostages on the IC-814.
The police officers who took Azhar to the Jammu airport from jail were told all cases against him had been withdrawn. The cases were in connection with Azhar’s entry into India on a forged Portuguese passport, indulgence in militant activities, motivating militants and masterminding a botched jailbreak at Kot Bhalwal.
It won’t be easy to re-open the cases. “The only way out is if someone challenges the then government’s action before a constitutional bench and if the court deems it was against the law of the land,” said legal experts.
They also said Azhar could be booked in fresh cases, for instance in connection with terror acts committed by the Jaish, for involvement in the attack on the J&K Assembly in October 1, 2001 and on Parliament a month later.