Pakistan confirms detention of top suspect of Indian airbase attack

Updated: 2016-01-15 13:39


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ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan has confirmed detention of the chief of a militant group blamed for deadly attack on an Indian airbase that has led to the postponement of Pakistan-India talks.

Maulana Masood Azhar, chief of "Jaish-i-Mohammad" group was in custody, Law Minister in Punjab province, Rana Sanaullah, told Dawn TV channel late Thursday.

Indian investigators had said they had traced phone contact between the attackers of the Pathankot airbase and members of the Jaish-i-Mohammad and the phone numbers were provided to Pakistan.

Earlier, a high level meeting presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad was informed that some members of the group have been taken into custody.

Foreign Office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said on Thursday he was unaware of the arrest of Azhar.

Minister Sanaullah confirmed that Masood Azhar was taken into "protective custody" by the counter-terrorism department.

He also said Azhar could be formally arrested if his involvement in the Pathankot attack, which left seven Indian security personnel and six attackers dead, was proved.

The minister also said two religious seminaries were sealed in the cities of Sialkot and Bahawalpur in Punjab on suspicion that they had links with the Jaih-i-Mohammad. One was being run by Ali Usman, the brother of Azhar.

Azhar, who belongs to Bahawalpur, had been in the Indian government's custody in a Kashmir prison. He was freed in December 1999, in swap for passengers on a hijacked Indian Airlines Flight that had landed in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar during the Taliban rule of Afghanistan.

The Indian Foreign Ministry has welcomed action against Jaish-i-Mohammad and described it as a major step.

Pakistani and Indian officials have confirmed the postponement of the "Comprehensive Dialogue" that was scheduled to be held on Friday in Islamabad. Both the countries had agreed last month to resume official dialogue that India had stalled after the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

Both countries are in touch for new date of the talks, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Islamabad on Thursday.