Asif Killing, A Major Blow To Jaish-e-Mohammad
8 April 2004
New Delhi: In a major blow to terrorist plans to sabotage the ongoing Lok Sabha campaign in Jammu and Kashmir, the Army today said that it had shot dead the head of the Jaish-e-Mohammad's military operations, Qari Mohammad Asif. Code-named Sehrai Baba, Asif took control of the Jaish-e-Mohammad after the death of his predecessor, Shahbaz Khan, in August, 2003. Khan, who is believed to have ordered the storming of the Parliament House in New Delhi, was killed by the Border Security Force at a house in downtown Srinagar. Asif is related to the Jaish's supreme leader, Maulana Masood Azar. The killing of the Jaish chief is a major blow to the outfit, which is spearheading a large-scale anti-election campaign in several remote areas of Jammu and Kashmir. Jaish operatives in recent weeks have put out leaflets warning people not to vote or participate in the Lok Sabha elections. 'While the killing of its top commander will not altogether lead to the local units shutting down,' a military spokesperson said, 'it will certainly create confusion among the Jaish-e-Mohammad's rank-and-file.' Asif was killed, along with four other terrorists, at village Sogam, in the mountainous Lolab area of northern Kashmir. The other terrorists killed in the encounter have been identified by officials as Malik Salimullah, a resident of Gujaranwala in the Pakistani province of Punjab, Nazaqat Zaman, a resident of Haripur in the North-West Frontier Province, Yahya Khan of Karachi, and Zubair Ahmad. Salimullah, operating under the code- name Umar Shakir, was the chief operations commander for the Jaish in Jammu and Kashmir. Intelligence sources, noting that it was rare for such a large number of Pakistani nationals to be moving in a single group, said that it was possible that the terrorists were interdicted on their way back across the Line of Control from Pakistan. In December last, the BSF had eliminated a key Jaish operative code-named 'Tango 4.' While the operative has never been conclusively identified, Indian signals intelligence had identified him as having played a central organisational role in the outfit. Soon after the killing of 'Tango 4,' the code name Sehrai Baba disappeared from communications between the Jaish within Jammu and Kashmir and their control stations across the LoC. An operative using the code name 'Echo' took control of the Jaish's operations, speculating that Asif himself may have left for Pakistan for meeting the organisation's top leadership. Asif's final interdiction along the LoC lends credence to this speculation. The Jaish-e-Mohammad, which means 'The Army of the Prophet,' is proscribed by several Governments world-wide. It continues to operate with some freedom in Pakistan, notwithstanding its having been banned during the 2001- 2002 military crisis with India. Although the Dera Ghazi Khan-based outfit no longer collects funds publicly, and some of its training camps have been dismantled, much of its military infrastructure is still intact. A considerable portion of the Jaish's funding now comes from Pakistani expatriates in West Asia. Maulana Masood Azhar was recently incarcerated in connection with an assassination attempt on the Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf. He was, however, subsequently released from jail.