Security agencies have traced the involvement of the shadowy terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad in the Indian Air Force base attack in Pathankot after intercepting mobile calls made by five terrorists to their handlers in Pakistan.
The Jaish-e-Mohammad – meaning ‘army of the Prophet’ - is a Pakistan-based outfit headed by Maulana Masood Azhar, who was one of three terrorists freed by India in exchange for the release of 176 passengers aboard an hijacked Indian Airline flight in 1999.
After lying low for a long time, the outfit mounted the early morning attack at the Pathankot base, which has left three securitymen including one IAF personnel dead and several injured. Five terrorists were shot down by security personnel.
Top Punjab police officials told HT that the JeM tag has been identified from intercepted mobile phone calls made by the five terrorists to their handlers in Pakistan hours before they attacked the frontline airbase.
The terrorists from Pakistan were on a suicidal mission against a specific target in Pathankot, a top police official said.
Terrorists had snatched a mobile phone from Gurdaspur superintendent of police Salwinder Singh whom they had waylaid near Pathankot on the Friday morning.
The terrorists used the SP’s official vehicle to get away from the scene and get closer to their intended target in Pathankot, according to police.
Terrorists used the snatched phone to get in touch with their handlers in Pakistan. Security agencies, who were tipped off about heavily-armed terrorists by the SP and injured person, intercepted their cross-border calls which triggered a high alert about their attack plan on the Pathankot air force base.
Singh informed the police that those who abducted him were heavily-armed terrorists and were talking about their plans to attack the airbase.
Founded as an umbrella terrorist organisation in February 2000 by Azhar, who runs religious seminary in Bahawalpur city of Pakistan’s Punjab province, JeM swears by its jihadist goal to “liberate Jammu and Kashmir from India”.
Azhar entered India on a Portuguese passport 1994 with the mission to forge unity among Pakistan-backed terror outfits operating in Kashmir. He was arrested in Anantnag in February 1995 and lodged in a high-security jail in Jammu before his supporters hijacked the Kathamandu-Delhi flight and commandeered it to the Taliban-controlled Kandahar to get him released.
The JeM had burst on the Kashmir valley with a bang in April 2000 with a suicide attack on the Badami Bagh cantonment, the headquarters of the 15th Corps in Srinagar. The outfit has since been involved in several high-profile terror attacks in J-K including one on the state assembly in Srinagar in 2001.
The JeM and Lashkar-e-Taiba , another Pakistan-based terror outfit, were also conspirators of the 2001 attack on the Parliament
Over the last few years, JeM cadres dwindled in Kashmir and it almost retreated into obscurity on the radar of security agencies. With the Pathankot attack, the ghost of JeM may have returned, security officials said.