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Maulana Masood Azhar held in Pakistan over Pathankot attack probe: Report

Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar and some of his aides were detained on Wednesday after being questioned over the Pathankot airbase attack, Pakistani media reported hours after the government announced a crackdown on the banned group.

“He has been taken into preventive detention amid a probe into allegations of his involvement in the Pathankot attack,” Geo News quoted an official source as saying. There was no official word on the development.

The report of Azhar’s detention came soon after Pakistan said it wants to send a special team to India to investigate the attack on Pathankot airbase, for which an unspecified number of JeM operatives had been “apprehended”.

Following a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the government announced it had also begun tracing and sealing the offices of the JeM. The group was banned in 2002 but continues to be active in several areas, including Punjab province and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Azhar formed the JeM after being freed from an Indian prison with two other militants in exchange for an Indian Airlines flight hijacked to Kandahar in 2000.

Pakistan was apparently spurred to act following pressure from the US and India. The JeM was blamed by Indian authorities for the brazen assault on Pathankot airbase, which killed seven security personnel. India sought “prompt and decisive action” by Pakistan on actionable intelligence regarding the attack.

The Pakistani action also appeared to be aimed at salvaging a planned meeting of the foreign secretaries on January 15. India has linked the talks to action against perpetrators of the Pathankot attack.

The meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sharif, also attended by army chief Gen Raheel Sharif and ISI chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, noted that “considerable progress” had been made in the prove against terrorist elements reportedly linked to the Pathankot incident.

“In the spirit of the cooperative approach, it was also decided that in order to carry the process forward, additional information would be required, for which the government of Pakistan is considering to send a Special Investigation Team to Pathankot, in consultation with the government of India,” said a statement from the Prime Minister Sharif’s office.

“Based on the initial investigations in Pakistan, and the information provided, several individuals belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed, have been apprehended. The offices of the organisation are also being traced and sealed. Further investigations are underway,” it added.

The statement did not give details about the number of JeM operatives who had been apprehended or their identities. It also did not say how many JeM offices had been sealed or where they are located.

The meeting was also attended by interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz, the Lahore Corps commander, the Intelligence Bureau chief and other senior civil, military and police officials.

The actions taken by Pakistan were reminiscent of its moves in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, carried out by a 10-member squad of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Following pressure from the world community, the government placed LeT founder Hafiz Saeed and other leaders under house arrest and sealed offices of the LeT and its front organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawah.

Seven men, including LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, were arrested for allegedly planning and executing the attacks but there has been little progress in their trial by an anti-terrorism court.

Within six months, Saeed and other leaders of LeT and JuD were freed and the LeT resumed its activities after changing its name to Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation.

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