New Delhi: It was in the winter of 1992 that Masood Azhar decided to make the long trip to United Kingdom. His visits to Sharjah and Saudi Arabia had bore little fruit and he hoped that he would find people sympathetic to the 'Kashmiri cause' there.
He was supported by Mufti Ismail, a cleric at a mosque in Southhall in London. Hailing from Gujarat, Ismail had studied at Darul-Ifta-Wal-Irshad in Karachi before moving to the UK. Together they travelled across UK seeking funds for militants operating in Jammu and Kashmir.
“I stayed with Mufti Ismail for a month. We visited several mosques in Birmingham, Nottingham, Burleigh, Sheffield, Dudsbury, and Leicester and met with several leaders”, Azhar told his interrogators.
Maulana Ismail was among the many Muslim leaders that Azhar had met. Also of Indian origin, Maulana was engaged in the construction of mosques and madrasas in Mongolia and Albania. With their help, Azhar was able to raise Rs. 15 lakh in Pakistani currency as aid for the militants.
His previous attempts at raising funds had not been as successful. In the early 1990s Azhar had come to realize that the Arab countries did not want to give aid to the Kashmir cause. Also, of the two agencies that he was in contact with in Saudi Arabia, the Jamiat-ul-Islah was an ally of Jamaat-e-Islami.
“Since Hizbul Mujahideen owed allegiance to Jamat, we were politely refused aid," Azhar informed. Still, he managed to collect Rs. 3 lakh in Abu Dhabi, another 3 lakh from Sharjah, and 2 lakh from Saudi Arabia on his second visit.
With sufficient funds, Masood Azhar arrived in New Delhi in January 1994 carrying a fake Portuguese passort. After dodging immigration officials queries by insisting that he was a 'Gujarati by birth', Azhar made his first stop at The Ashok hotel in Delhi's posh Chanakyapuri area which also houses the diplomatic enclave. The Pakistan-based terrorist also stayed in the capital's Janpath hotel and visited Lucknow, Shahranpur, and Islamic seminary Darul-uloom-deoband before making his way to Srinagar on February 9.
There, he stayed at Madrasa Qasmian in Lal Bazaar where he met with militants Sajjad Afghani and his deputy Amjad Bilal of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami who escorted him to Matigund where all Pakistan-POK-based terrorists had gathered.
"They (the terrorists) were happy about my visit and merger of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. I had taken their addresses and letters so that I could communicate their well-being to their families upon returning to Pakistan.”
While returning from Matigund, the car carrying Azhar and party developed some trouble and wouldn't start. Azhar along with Afghani and Farooq, a militant of Matigund area, boarded a three-wheeler and proceeded to Anantnag but were stopped by army personnel on the way, according to report.
"Farooq started running and opened fire which was returned by the Army men. Farooq managed to escape but I along with Afghani was arrested," he told the interrogators. Azhar was arrested two weeks after his arrival in Delhi. Later, in 1999, when an Indian Airlines was hijacked and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan, Azhar and two other terrorists were released in exchange for the safe return of the flight's passengers.
Two decades later, Maulana Masood Azhar-led Jaish-e-Mohammed, a notorious terror outfit, claimed responsibility for the suicide-bomb attack on convoy vehicles carrying security personnel in Pulwama district, Jammu and Kashmir. The attack resulted in the death of 40 soldiers and injured many others. It is the deadliest terror attack on India's state security personnel in Kashmir since 1989.