Balakot camp blown up by IAF was Jaish’s preferred training spot for 18 yrs
Indian intelligence officials believe that Jaish chief Masood Azhar wrote Fath-ul-Jawwad, his long essay on the Quranic basis for waging militant jihad, in Balakot.
Balakot’s Jaba Top first emerged as a preferred training ground for militants in the time of President Zia-ul-Haq. It was an ideal place for a camp for non-state actors — remote, located near a small town, yet far enough from it, on a wooded hilltop, and on Pakistani territory in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. India crossed into Pakistan’s territory in 1971 (and then again, its aircraft on Tuesday), and so the Pakistanis may have thought it was a good place to host a training camp for militants whom the rest of the world called terrorists.
The camp’s name reflects the history of Balakot. It is named Markaj Syed Ahmed Shaheed (Centre Syed Ahmad Martyr). Syed Ahmad Barelvi was originally from Rae Bareli (explaining his name) in what is now known as Uttar Pradesh and is considered to be an Islamic martyr by Deobandis and those who belong to the Ahle Hadis sect. He died fighting in Balakot against the Sikh regime in 1831 along with Shah Ismail Dehlvi (who was from Delhi). Both are now mentioned in many jihadi videos as role models for militants for waging jihad against non-believers.
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It was in 2001 when reports first emerged of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) , founded by Masood Azhar, moving its HQ from Afghanistan (Azhar has always been close to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which welcomed him after India released him in exchange for passengers of a hijacked Indian Airlines aircraft in 1999). Indian intelligence officials believe that Jaish chief Masood Azhar wrote Fath-ul-Jawwad, his long essay on the Quranic basis for waging militant jihad, in Balakot.
Interestingly, in his essay he mentioned both Syed Ahmed Barelvi and Shah Ismail Dehlvi.
Since then, it has been well-known in intelligence circles that JeM has a significant presence in the area, a mere 40km by road from Muzaffarbad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, but which is clearly on Pakistani territory.
Photographs released by Indian intelligence agencies after the attack show considerable infrastructure, including what the agencies claim is an ammunitions dump, a meeting hall with JeM messages displayed prominently, steps with flags of countries JeM considers enemies (Israel and the United States, for instance) painted on the ground (so that recruits can step on them), and a board advertising the presence of a religious training facility run by Yusuf Azhar (with his mobile phone number), under the auspices of the larger organisation run by Masood Azhar, whose mobile number is also mentioned. Yusuf Azhar, Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law, was involved in the 1999 hijacking of IC-814 from Kathmandu to Kandahar and the person in charge of the camp. Masood Azhar’s son, Abdullah, was also trained at the facility. The officials say that JeM’s Border Action Teams were trained at Balakot, and that Abdul Rashed Ghaz, an explosives expert considered to be the mastermind behind the February 14 Pulwama suicide attack, was once a trainer at the camp.
The intelligence officials add that the camp is spread over six acres of forest land and can accommodate around 600 people at a time. It has a firing range, swimming pool and gymnasium, they said. According to them, the JeM is believed to have moved close to 300 terrorists to the camp after the Pulwama attack for safekeeping and training.
The intelligence officials said around 325 people were killed in the attack, all six barracks in the camp destroyed, and the ammunition depot blown up. Indian officials said they believed Yusuf Azhar was at the camp at the time of the predawn air strikes on Tuesday, but could not confirm if he was killed in operation.