Yusuf Azhar, 1999 plane hijacker, headed Balakot Jaish camp hit by IAF
Yusuf Azhar, the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, headed the terror camp of Balakot that was targeted by the IAF early this morning.Updated: Feb 26, 2019 17:19 IST
India woke up on Tuesday to the news of an operation by the Indian Air Force (IAF) on terror camp in Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The IAF carried out air strike using Mirage 2000 fighter jets to drop laser-guided bombs at what was the biggest terror camp of terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, which claimed responsibility for the Pulwama terror attack.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, who briefed media in New Delhi after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), indicated that Yusuf Azhar, the brother-in-law of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar headed the terror camp of Balakot that was targeted by the IAF early this morning.
“A large number of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, trainers, senior commanders were eliminated in largest JeM camp in Balakot. The camp was led by Maulana Yusuf Azhar alias Ustad Ghauri, the brother-in-law of JeM chief Masood Azhar,” said Gokhale.
India had been trying to bring Yusuf Azhar to justice for last 20 years. His name first cropped up during the hijack of Indian Airlines flight IC 814 on its way from Kathmandu in Nepal to New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport in 1999.
JeM's Yusuf Azhar alias Mohammad Salim alias Ustaad Gohri who was targeted today by IAF #airstrike in Balakot across LOC was on the Interpol list and among the most wanted in India. pic.twitter.com/1eTj8FhFMJ— ANI (@ANI) February 26, 2019
Also watch: Why Pakistan is unlikely to retaliate to India’s ‘pre-emptive strike’
Yusuf Azhar was one of the terrorists, who hijacked the passenger plane. The terrorists forced the pilot to divert the plane from its scheduled route and take it to Kandahar in Afghanistan, then controlled by Taliban, whose fighters surrounded the airbus. The terrorists demanded release of terrorists including Masood Azhar.
More than 170 passengers were on the flight, which the terrorists threatened to blow up if their demands were not met. India released three terrorists including Masood Azhar to secure safe return of the passengers.
Later, India approached Interpol for the arrest of Yusuf Azhar, who is charged in India with hijacking, kidnapping and murder. Rupan Katyal, one of the passengers, had been stabbed multiple times by the hijackers and died before the flight landed at Dubai airport.
According to the Interpol notice, as released news agency ANI, Yusuf Azhar was born in Karachi, Pakistan and spoke Urdu and Hindi.
In 2002, India handed over a list of 20 most wanted criminals to Pakistan. Yusuf Azhar’s named featured in the document. Pakistan never acted on India’s demand.
Yusuf Azhar was believed to be preparing at the Balakot terror camp for more attacks in India. Gokhale said, “Credible information was received that JeM was attempting other attacks in the country. A pre-emptive strike became important.”
The foreign secretary also said, “The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualty. It’s located in deep forest on a hilltop.” The Balakot terror camp was located at about 195 km from Islamabad and over 40 km from Muzaffarabad, he said.
At least 40 CRPF jawans were killed in Pulwama terror attack on February 14. A suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a convoy of CRPF carrying more than 2,500 jawans from Jammu to Srinagar. The convoy was targeted on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.
First Published: Feb 26, 2019 15:55 IST