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Balakot camp had over 200 terrorists, says official

The facility was headed by JeM chief Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law Yusuf Azhar, says Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale

The Balakot camp run by the terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) that was hit by the Indian Air Force in the early hours of Tuesday “housed more than 200 terrorists”, a senior government official said.

The camp was headed by Jaish chief Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law Yusuf Azhar, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said. It is located around 200 km from Islamabad on a hilltop in a forest far from the civilian area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

On the banks of the Kunhar river, the camp offered the possibility of aquatic training to terrorists. Trainers at the camp were “ex-Army personnel”, the official said.

The camp was initially used as a training camp by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), another terrorist outfit active in Jammu and Kashmir and supported by Pakistan.

A former Intelligence official told that Yusuf Azhar, alias Mohammad Salim, alias Ustad Ghouri, was a Hindu who converted to Islam and married Azhar’s sister.

He was one of the main conspirators involved in the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 to Kandahar in 1999. The JeM chief was released by India in exchange for the hijacked passengers. His name was on a list of 20 fugitives handed over by India to Pakistan in 2002.

In 2000, the Interpol on the basis of a request by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) opened a red corner notice against Yusuf Azhar. The notice said that his place of birth was in Karachi, Pakistan and he was fluent in “Urdu and Hindi”, He is wanted in India for “hijacking, murder and kidnapping”.

The ex-official said the JeM was run like a “family enterprise”. “After Azhar, his brothers, Rauf and Ibrahim, are the most important functionaries. The next in line is Yusuf. While the main recruiter continues to be Masood Azhar, Yusuf’s job is to mainly train recruits. Masood likes to remain in the background post-2001 Parliament attack,” he said.

“The precision hit was conducted on a vast, advanced training camp. It was an important training centre for the JeM and other terror organisations. It had several structures to accommodate terrorist trainees and facilities to train them and was used for battle inoculation,” he said.

Masood Azhar and other terrorist leaders had delivered “inspirational” lectures on several occasions. “The terrorists were imparted the advanced Daura e Khaas training in weapons, explosives and field tactics, tactics for attacking the convoys of security forces, planting and making IEDs, preparations for suicide bombing, rigging vehicles for suicide attacks and survival tactics in high altitudes and extreme-stress situations. The JeM specialises in fidayeen actions and gives immense importance to religious indoctrination and ideological brainwashing,” the ex-official said.

Masood Azhar’s relatives and cadres were trained at Balakot in advanced weapons and tactics, he said.

According to him, the first camp handed over to JeM was between Mansera and Balakot in 2001. “These camps were located in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) earlier but after pressure built on Pakistan post-2001 Parliament attack, they were shifted to deep inside Pakistan,” he said.

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