Masood Azhar, the chief of the Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), has been confined to bed with a life-threatening condition, Indian intelligence officials said, and the proscribed Deobandi outfit is now operationally divided between his two younger brothers, Rauf Asghar and Athar Ibrahim, who continue to carry out jihadist attacks on India and Afghanistan.
Azhar, 50, is suffering ailments that have affected his spinal cord and kidney, the officials added, declining to elaborate.
Intelligence officials, who asked not to be identified, said Azhar is believed to have been treated for his spinal cord and renal condition at the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi, and that the jihadist leader has been bedridden for at least a year and a half.
Indian diplomats Hindustan Times spoke to could not confirm Azhar’s illness but said the terrorist leader, whose designation by UN as global terrorist (a move sponsored by India) was blocked by China, had not been sighted in public either in his home town Bhawalpur or anywhere else in Pakistan.
That makes India’s job easier, one expert added. “There is no need to India to give concessions to Beijing over designation of Azhar as global terrorist as the terrorist has been struck with debilitating illness,” said a senior counter-terrorism official based in the Capital.
A dreaded Islamist, Indian officials hold Azhar responsible for a string of suicide terror attacks on Indian soil including the 2001 attack on Parliament, the 2005 attack in Ayodhya and the 2016 attack on Pathankot airbase. Though these attacks were partially successful, they were aimed to either force India to initiate armed hostilities against Pakistan or cause communal conflagration in India.
Azhar was freed by India and transported to Kandahar in exchange for hijacked passengers of IC-814 in 1999; that hijacking was supported by the then Taliban and al- Qaeda chiefs and the ISI.
The 814 hijacking was carried out by Athar Ibrahim, who is now handling terror strikes in Afghanistan and Baluchistan from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, according to officials. The Jaish operation in Afghanistan has joined hands with Taliban, with whom it shares Deobandi ideology, for attacks against the Ashraf Ghani government in Ghazni province in August.
Azhar’s other brother, Rauf Asghar has taken over terror operations against India particularly in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. India and the US are currently discussing moves to brand Asghar a global terrorist by the Trump administration and the UN 1267 committee, say intelligence officials. Jaish is also acting as an arm of Pakistan deep state and is involved, according to the officials, in neutralising Baluchi tribal leaders opposed to Islamabad and Rawalpindi GHQ (general headquarters).