Azhar’s brother, brother-in-law reportedly killed in raid by fleet of Mirage, Sukhoi jets
* Air raid for first time since 1971 war
* Fighter jets take off from multiple places
* 1000 kg bombs dropped in 17 minutes operation
JAMMU, Feb 26: For the first time since 1971 Indo-Pak war, Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out pre-dawn air strikes pounding Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest training camp at Balakote in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, about 80 kilometers deep inside Pakistan from the Line of Control (LoC), killing over 350 terrorists including top commanders of JeM, trainers and recruits, who were sleeping in five star facility equipped terror camp when the fighter jets pounded it with laser guided bombs weighing over 1000 kilograms.
The terror camp, which had been established by JeM chief Moulana Masood Azhar after his release in 1999 from Kot Bhalwal jail of Jammu following much-publicized Kandahar hijacking, was completely destroyed in the bombing by fighter jets-Mirage 2000 and Sukhoi. Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law Moulana Yusuf Azhar alias Gauri Ustaad and brother Ibrahim Azhar were inside the terror camp at the time of attack and were reportedly dead, sources told the Excelsior.
“The air strikes, which took place between 3.45 am to around 4.02 am were pinpointed, swift, accurate and highly successful as they hit the targets, destroyed the terror camp completely, eliminated large number of militants and returned successfully without being intercepted by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), sources said, adding by the time two F-16 fighter jets of Pakistan realized such a massive activity of the IAF inside Pakistan, they came into action, but flew back after observing power of the Indian formation.
Soon after the air raids, the Indian Air Force was put on high alert all over the country especially Jammu and Kashmir to respond to any possible retaliation by the Pakistan Air Force. Army and BSF have strengthened their positions along LoC and IB respectively to counter any eventuality by the Pakistani troops.
“Balakote terror camp of Jaish was prime target and it was hit accurately. Everything went as per schedule and plans. The raids were successful and entire IAF crew returned to air bases unharmed and fleet of fighter jets without being intercepted or hit,” sources said.
The Indian attack specifically targeting the Jaish-e-Mohammed installation came within 12 days of Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir, owned by Jaish, in which 44 CRPF jawans were martyred after which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared that Pakistan has committed a big mistake and that martyrdom of the jawans will not go in vain.
The fighter jets were reported to have taken off from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, Bhatinda in Punjab, Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh and Sirsa air bases in Haryana while refueller jet, which is used for fuelling in air, took off from Agra air base in Uttar Pradesh.
“It was a combined strike with fighters, early warning system aircraft and mid air refueller jets. The Mirage 2000s and Sukhois took off in batches while early warning system aircraft flew from another base, Similarly, the mid-air refueling tanker undertook the sortie from the third airbase. Heron surveillance drone, which took final survey of the targets before the air strikes, flew from a different base,” sources said.
A total of 12 Mirage 2000 aircrafts supported by a fleet of Sukhoi 30 jets, a mid air refueller and two Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) were used in the air strikes.
Refueling air tanker stayed inside the Indian side as fighters entered Pakistan. The jets flew low to avoid detection by radars.
The Netra, an AWACS aircraft, also flew well inside Indian airspace while providing surveillance and radar coverage for the “non-military pre-emptive action” carried out by the Mirage jets.
Netra was used as it can also alert pilots of incoming missiles as it has infrared detection capability that can see the hot exhaust of the missiles.
They added that the IAF jets used a number of laser guided bombs, weighing over 1000 kg, to destroy the JeM training facility in Balakote, about 80 kilometers from the LoC inside Pakistan.
While there was no official word on number of the militants killed in Indian air raids in Pakistan, sources said over 350 terrorists of Jaish-e-Mohammed including 25 top commanders have been eliminated in the attack on Balakote camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Besides top Jaish commanders, militants, a number of trainers, who generally comprised ex-servicemen of Pakistan army and under-training militants, were among those killed inside the camp.
The camp, which was located on a hilltop forest, hit the militants and their trainers in their sleep, eliminating majority of those, who were present there. Going by intensity of the pounding of the camp by the IAF jets, there was no scope of anyone surviving there, sources said. At least 325 militants and 25 to 27 trainers were at the camp and all of them were killed, they added.
Some of the top militants reportedly killed in the attack included Moulana Yousuf Azhar alias Gauri Ustaad, brother-in-law of Masood Azhar and Incharge of the camp, Ibrahim Azhar, elder brother of Masood Azhar, who was also involved in IC-814 hijacking in Kandahar after which three terrorists including Moulana Masood Azhar were released from jails, Mufti Azhar Khan Kashmiri, head of ‘Kashmir Operations’, Maulana Ammar, head of ‘Afghan Operations’ and Maulana Talha Saif, brother of Masood Azhar and Incharge Fidayeen Squad.
While about 200 to 250 militants used to stay in JeM’s Balakote camp, sources said, 100 to 150 others had recently been shifted there from terror camps running in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) by the Pakistan army and ISI besides the militant commanders as they feared that India might strike at the terror camps in PoK especially those located close to the LoC.
Describing the strikes as pre-emptive, sources said there had been very specific and credible inputs available with Indian security forces and Intelligence agencies that fresh group of seven fidayeen were being trained at the camp to be launched in Jammu and Kashmir for more suicide bombings like Pulwama attack. The fidayeen being trained for the attack have been neutralized inside the camp.
Sources said Rashid Gazi, one of the masterminds of Pulwama terror attack, had also been trained in Balakote camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad outfit. He was killed by security forces within few days of Pulwama attack along with two others in South Kashmir.
According to sources, 20 minutes time had been fixed for the Air Force warriors to carry out the entire operation inside Pakistan to avoid interception by the Pakistan Air Force. The fighter jets, however, accomplished the mission within 17 minutes i.e. from 3.45 am to 4.02 am.
Sources described the operation as “non-military” and “pre-emptive” saying no military or civilian installations were targeted inside Pakistan and it was only the terror camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which was hit with accurate strike.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told the media that “intelligence-led operation” on the Pakistan-based terror group’s biggest training camp in Balakote became “absolutely necessary” as it was planning more suicide attacks in India.
“Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose,” Gokhale said.
In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became “absolutely necessary”, the Foreign Secretary said.
“In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated,” he said.
The facility at Balakote, located in a thick forest on a hilltop far away from civilian presence, was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar, alias Ustad Ghouri, the brother-in-law of JeM chief Masood Azhar, he said, reading out from a statement.
“The Government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism,” the Foreign Secretary said.
The selection of the target, he said, was conditioned by the desire to avoid civilian casualties. India, Gokhale said, expects Pakistan to dismantle all terror camps, including those of the JeM.
“India has been repeatedly urging Pakistan to take action against the JeM to prevent jihadis from being trained and armed inside Pakistan. Pakistan has taken no concrete actions to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil,” he said.
Earlier in the day, sources said Mirage 2000 combat jets of the Indian Air Force bombed terror camps at multiple locations across the Line of Control in the Pakistani side. They said jets pounded the camps in Balakote, Muzaffarabad and Chakoti.
However, there was no independent confirmation of these reports and Gokhale made it clear that only one camp was struck in Balakote without mentioning the Mirage 2000 jets.
The JeM has been active in Pakistan for the last two decades and has its headquarters in Bahawalpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province, Gokhale said in the statement.
He pointed out that the organization is proscribed by the UN and has been responsible for a series of terrorist attacks, including on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the Pathankot airbase in January 2016. “Information regarding the location of training camps in Pakistan and PoJK has been provided to Pakistan from time to time. Pakistan, however, denies their existence. The existence of such massive training facilities capable of training hundreds of jidhadis could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistan authorities,” he said.
The attack stunned Pakistan which vowed to respond “at the time and place of its choosing” and raise the matter at the United Nations and other international forums.
At a hurriedly called special meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC)- the country’s top security body – hours after India’s air strikes, Prime Minister Imran Khan asked the armed forces and the people of his country to remain prepared for “all eventualities.”
The country’s top civil and military brass “concluded that India has committed uncalled for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing,” it added.
Pakistan army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said Pakistan will “surprise” India with its response that will be in all domains including “diplomatic, political and military.”
“Prime Minister Imran Khan told the army and the people to get ready for any eventuality. Now it is time for India to wait for our response. We have decided. Wait for it,” Ghafoor said.
PM was up all night
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was up all night as he monitored the Indian Air Force operation to destroy a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Pakistan, relaxing only after all the pilots returned safely home, Government sources said today.
After congratulating all those involved in the operation around 4.30 am, he got busy with his daily routine as he prepared for a full day’s schedule, including the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security at his residence around 10 am.
He then rushed to the Rashtrapati Bhawan, where President Ram Nath Kovind conferred the Gandhi Peace Prize for 2015-2018. Later, Modi flew to Rajasthan for a rally and returned to New Delhi to attend an ISKCON event.
“The Prime Minister did not sleep a wink all night and remained intimately involved in the operations,” said one source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Modi attended a News18 television channel conclave at the Taj Palace hotel on Monday night, and left for home at 9.15 pm. After reaching his 7 Lok Kalyan Marg residence in 10 minutes, he took a light meal and became involved in the operation, going through the preparations for the air strike on the training camp, the source said.
It is not clear if he was at home or at some other location where a control room monitored the historic events about to unfold.
The Prime Minister was in touch with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Air Force Chief B S Dhanoa before, during and after the operation, the source, who is close to the Prime Minister, said.
Once the operation ended, he checked with officials about the well-being of the pilots involved, the source said.
When it was clear everyone was safe, the Prime Minister withdrew and turned his attention to other matters, he said. (PTI)
Camp head was wanted in Kandahar hijacking
Yousuf Azhar, who headed the Balakote-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camp, was wanted by the CBI in the IC-814 Kandahar hijacking case with a pending Interpol red corner notice against him since 2000, sources said.
The red corner notice was issued on the request of the CBI against seven accused in the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan on December 24, 1999 including Yousuf Azhar, Ibrahim Athar, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, Zahoor Ibrahim, Shahid Akhter, Sayed Shakir and Abdul Rauf, they said.
Brother-in-law of Jaish chief Masood Azhar, Yousuf Azhar with red corner notice number A-565/6-2000 and Rauf with notice number A-566/6-2000 were key conspirators in the Kandahar plane hijack case.
Masood Azhar and two other dreaded terrorists Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Syed Sheikh were released in exchange of the 154 hostages aboard Flight 814 on December 31, 1999 by the then BJP-led NDA Government.
India had been seeking extradition of these accused from Pakistan under the SAARC and the Hague agreements under which Islamabad has the obligation to extradite them, according to sources.
Born in Karachi, Yousuf was fluent in Urdu and Hindi and also uses the alias of Mohammed Salim. He was believed to be working closely with Masood Azhar, whose organization was behind the Uri and Pulwama attacks on Indian security forces.
The CBI, which had approached the Pakistani authorities through the Ministry of External Affairs, seeking the extradition of five persons, had, however, not received any response.
Yousuf is believed dead in today’s air strikes by India.
Balakote people thought of earthquake
Residents in the quake-prone Balakote town in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province today said they were woken by “loud explosions” and thought a fresh tremor must have hit the region when Indian Air Force jets pounded a large terror training camp.
Balakote town in Pakistan’s north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was destroyed during the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and was rebuilt with assistance from Saudi Arabia.
Residents in the mountainous area said they were woken by loud explosions.
Residents in several towns near Balakote reported hearing explosions early today.
Mohammad Adil, a farmer in Jaba village, said he and his family were woken at about 03:00 by “a huge explosion”.
He said they thought an earth quake must have hit the region.
“Then we heard jets flying over. We went to the place in the morning. There was a huge crater and four or five houses were destroyed,” he said. (PTI)