Two years after a terror attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in south Kashmir’s Pulwama killed 40 security personnel, Interpol has issued red notices against Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) honcho Maulana Masood Azhar and three of his relatives in connection with the brazen strike that brought the already troubled India-Pakistan relations to a new low. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the case, hopes that authorities in Pakistan, where Azhar and his aides are believed to be hiding, will honour the red notices and take action against the terror masterminds.
Apart from Azhar, red notices, or global arrest warrants, have been issued against his brothers Abdul Rauf Asghar and Ibrahim Athar, and his cousin Ammar Alvi.
The development coincides with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) beginning a series of online meetings to review Pakistan’s actions to counter terror financing amid signs that Islamabad is yet to completely implement the multilateral watchdog’s action plan. The crucial plenary meeting, to be held 22-25 February, will take a final call on Pakistan, which is in FATF’s grey list.
The fresh Interpol notices against Azhar and Rauf are in addition to the red notices issued against them previously — for their role in the attack on Indian parliament in 2001 as well as the deadly attack on the Pathankot airbase in 2016.
Rauf has another Interpol red notice against him for hijacking Indian Airlines’ Flight IC-814 in 1999, which forced the government to release Azhar and two other terrorists (Mushtaq Zargar and Omar Sheikh) in exchange for about 150 passengers on board.
“Azhar and his brother live freely in Pakistan despite killing hundreds of innocent people…they are globally designated wanted terrorists and have three to four Interpol red notices pending against them. Pakistan must arrest them and hand them over to India,” said a counterterrorism official, requesting anonymity.
Under FATF pressure, Pakistan issued an arrest warrant against Azhar last month, acknowledging officially for the first time his presence in its territory. But Indian counterterrorism officials call it “total eyewash”.
“The JeM chief has not even been charged under terror laws in Pakistan despite India sharing massive evidence in all these attacks. The court warrant is to show before the FATF plenary that some action is happening,” the official quoted above said.
FATF president Marcus Pleyer last year cautioned Pakistan that it would not be given a chance “forever” to address outstanding issues and that repeated failure to deliver on the action plan would result in a country being put in the “black list”. Pleyer also said Pakistan had fully complied with 21 of 27 points in the action plan.
On 12 December, India has also prepared a formal judicial request, or Letter Rogatory, seeking information on Azhar, Rauf, Athar and Alvi, and three Pakistani nationals who came to India to execute the Pulwama attack. Athar’s son Umar Farooq and JeM commander Kamran (both killed in encounters with security forces) and one Ismail, alias Saifullah, are the three others on whom information will be sought.
The Letter Rogatory request has been approved by the ministry of home affairs and will be sent to Islamabad in next two weeks, said a second official.
In a 13,500-page charge sheet filed in August 2020, NIA said Azhar’s nephew Farooq, a highly skilled Afghanistan-trained improvised explosive device (IED) maker, executed the suicide bombing on the morning of 14 February 2019, when a CRPF convoy was moving on national highway in Pulwama.
“Since the Pulwama attack, many of these high-profile terrorist commanders have gone under the radar in Pakistan and haven’t been seen publicly as part of Pakistan’s strategy to show to the international community that the terrorists aren’t active in its jurisdiction. As soon as the global scrutiny subsides, these terrorist commanders will be back, operating openly,” Sameer Patil , fellow at the International Security Studies Programme at Gateway House, said.