LAHORE: Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah on Thursday confirmed that Jaish-i-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar is under 'protective custody'.
Speaking on DawnNews talk show 'News Eye', Sanaullah while responding to a question confirmed that Masood Azhar was taken into protective custody by the counter-terrorism department.
When asked if his custody can be termed an 'arrest', the provincial law minister explained that Azhar will only face arrest and legal action if his involvement in the Pathankot attack is proved beyond doubt.
As Pakistan on Wednesday announced the arrest of Jaish members and started sealing the organisation's offices, some media reports had suggested the arrest of Azhar, who has been named by New Delhi as the mastermind of the Pathankot airbase attack.
However, the Foreign Office had said in the morning that it is not aware of the arrest of Jaish-i-Mohammad chief while Bahawalpur DPO Sarfaraz Ahmad Falki had also expressed ignorance about house arrest of Maulana Azhar or any other arrests in his district.
At least seven Indian military personnel were killed in the first week of January during an explosion and hours long gunbattle at India's Pathankot air base near the border with Pakistan.
The attack took place a week after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a stopover in Lahore to wish Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and attend the latter's granddaughter’s wedding at Jati Umra.
Azhar was arrested in India in February 1994. But India was forced to release him and two others — Mushtaq Zargar and Umar Sheikh — in Dec 1999 in exchange for passengers and crews of an Indian flight that was hijacked by militants linked to Harkatul Mujahideen from Kathmandu and forced to land in Kandahar.
Maulana Azhar’s brother Rauf is believed to have masterminded the hijacking.
After his return to Pakistan, Maulana Azhar split with Harkatul Mujahideen in 2000 and formed his own militant outfit Jaish-i-Mohammad.