Pakistani court directs authorities to arrest JeM chief Masood Azhar by Jan 18
- The court’s order was the first official acknowledgement of Azhar’s presence on Pakistani soil in recent years. Pakistani officials and leaders have repeatedly said they didn’t have information on his whereabouts.
A Pakistani court has given police officials time till January 18 to arrest Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, days after directing them to produce the UN-designated terrorist on charges of terror financing.
The anti-terrorism court (ATC) at Gujranwala in Pakistan’s Punjab province had on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for Azhar on the request of the local Counter-Terrorism Department and judge Natasha Naseem Supra had ordered that he should be produced in court on Friday.
The court’s order was the first official acknowledgement of Azhar’s presence on Pakistani soil in recent years. Pakistani officials and leaders have repeatedly said they didn’t have information on his whereabouts.
When the matter came up for hearing in the Gujranwala court on Friday, the judge gave the Counter-Terrorism Department time till January 18 to arrest Azhar, failing which steps would be taken to declare him a fugitive.
“ATC Gujranwala judge Natasha Naseem Supra, during the case hearing on Friday, directed the CTD to arrest JeM chief Masood Azhar by January 18 and present him in the court. In case of failure (to arrest him), the court may begin proceedings to declare him a proclaimed offender,” a court official was quoted as saying by PTI.
Indian officials have said the Pakistani court’s actions are clearly linked to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) beginning the process to review Islamabad’s efforts to counter terror financing and money laundering during key meetings this month and in February.
JeM was among the groups specifically named by FATF for terror financing in its reports in the past two years. India has already provided evidence on JeM and Azhar’s role in the 2019 Pulwama attack, in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers were killed. The attack had brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.
The Counter-Terrorism Department had earlier arrested six JeM terrorists – Muhammad Afzal, Muhammad Amir, Allah Ditta, Muhammad Iftikhar, Muhammad Ajmal and Muhammad Bilal Makki – on terror-related charges and sought an arrest warrant for Azhar in the same case even though he wasn’t named in the original chargesheet, people familiar with developments said.
Azhar was last believed to be in his stronghold of Bahawalpur in Punjab province. There was no information on whether Pakistani authorities had launched efforts to trace him.
Pakistan was placed on FATF’s “grey list” in June 2018 for failing to counter terror financing. The multilateral watchdog had given it time till February this year to implement an action plan to curb the raising of funds by terrorists after it missed several deadlines for complying with FATF’s recommendations.
The UN had designated Azhar a “global terrorist” in May 2019, when China lifted its hold on a proposal to blacklist the Pakistan-based JeM chief, a decade after New Delhi approached the world body for the first time on the issue.