Yusuf Azhar, one of the terrorists involved in the December 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 from Kathmandu to Kandahar, and brother-in-law of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, was one of the main targets of the Balakot air strike, and post-attack chatter suggests he may have been killed in the pre-dawn air strike on the camp, officials familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.
Azhar, who headed one of the oldest training facilities of the JeM, in Balakot, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is wanted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and an Interpol Red Notice (number A-565/6-2000) has been pending against him for the last 19 years.
Yusuf is also known as Mohammed Salim and Ustad Ghouri and his name has figured in the list of wanted terrorists that India has repeatedly handed over to Pakistan over the years.
“Besides the symbolic value of the camp and its importance for Jaish’s war against India, Azhar’s continuous presence there was one of the main reason that the government decided to target the Balakot camp,” said a security official.
Azhar is one of seven accused in the IC-814 hijacking case along with Ibrahim Athar, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, Zahoor Ibrahim, Shahid Akhter, Sayed Shakir and Abdul Rauf. The flight was hijacked over Indian skies on December 24, 1999 and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan. The city was then controlled by Mulla Umar’s Taliban.
India had to release Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Syed Sheikh, who is now awaiting a death sentence in Pakistan for his involvement in the murder of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, in exchange for the release of 154 passengers aboard IC-814.
The CBI, which investigated the hijacking, sought the Red Notice against all the accused and it was issued in 2000.
“Jaish is mostly a family run enterprise with brothers of Masood Azhar Rauf and Ibrahim and brothers-in-law like Yusuf Azhar and Maulana Ashfaq being key figures in the outfit. Rauf is now de-facto chief of the outfit as Masood Azhar is not known to be keeping well,” said an intelligence official.
Intelligence agencies are now awaiting confirmation from the ground on the fate of Yusuf Azhar.