Indian jets hit Balakot camp, admits JeM

Indian jets hit Balakot camp, admits JeM

Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

As doubts on the success of the Balakot air strike refuse to die down, a purported audio message by Maulana Ammar — the younger brother of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar — has surfaced in which the JeM commander claims that the Indian aerial strike hit the training camp where young recruits were trained in jihad (holy war).

More than 24 hours after the tape found its way to the social media, there is no official word from the Indian government on the authenticity of the 1.51-minute audio clip, which is being played by a section of television channels.

In the tape, Maulana Ammar is heard saying that the Indian strike hit an Islamic centre (markaz) where students understood jihad and were told how to assist the oppressed people in Kashmir.

The JeM commander — one of the four known brothers of Azhar — says the Indian aircraft didn’t bomb the safe houses of the “agency” or the sites where “agency officials” used to hold their meetings.

Released by Taha Siddiqui, a Pakistani journalist in exile, the tape also carried Maulana Ammar’s criticism of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for releasing IAF pilot Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman.

On Feb 25-26, the Indian Air Force launched a major air strike on one of the biggest JeM training camps at Balakot. The aerial strike happened 12 days after over 40 CRPF men were killed in Pulwama, an attack orchestrated by the JeM.

“In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated,” Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said.

The Indian government, so far, has not provided any proof on the extent of damage to the Balakot camp. But the defence ministry presented fragments of a beyond-visual-range missile fired by the Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jets to demonstrate an offensive counter-attack by the Pakistan Air Force a day after the Balakot air strike. There are reports suggesting that the government is in possession of satellite images showing the weapons used by the IAF hit the target.

Italian journalist Francesca Marino told an Indian TV channel that her sources in Balakot had confirmed that the death toll was between 40 and 50, and the number of wounded ranged between 35 and 40. She wrote in a report that eyewitnesses in Balakot saw up to 35 bodies being transported out of the site by ambulances hours after the attack.