Even without Kandahar, Azhar may have walked out

Azhar's release from jail followed instructions from the then NDA Government in Delhi and there was no formal court order for the purpose, recalled others who were witness to the trial. While he was being tried in the court of Forest Magistrate at Jammu, says a senior advocate who wished not to be named, the trial court was neither informed nor any permission was sought from it. It was only when court, taking note of newspaper reports about Azhar's release in exchange for Kandahar hostages, sought his production before it, that the prosecution withdrew the jail break charges against him.

Says then Kot Bhalwal jail superintendent Chanchal Singh (now retired): "We only received instructions from the Government to hand over his custody to the police. Then DIG S P Vaid (now IG, Railways and Crime) along with a police party came to the jail to take Azhar Masood's custody." They were carrying no court orders.

Vaid confirmed that he had received instructions from the Union Home Ministry to take Azhar's custody. Educated and widely travelled, Azhar was shrewd and knew how to deal with any situation. A motivator and efficient fund raiser, he was credited with bringing together Valley's two frontline terrorist outfits Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Jehad-i-Islami in 1993.

After he was shifted from Srinagar to the Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu, Azhar remained confined to his cell except for court appearances, recalls Chanchal Singh. Known inside the jail as a cool and calm person, he never mixed up with other terrorists lodged there and spent his time either praying, reading newspapers or listening to a transistor, Singh recalls.

However, says Chatta, "despite being a scholarly person, he was a fanatic. While he always used to question India's right to rule Kashmir, he accused many a Kashmiri separatist leader of hurting the Kashmir cause". Even when the world was discussing the terrorists' demand for his release in exchange of passengers of the hijacked IC-814 flight fourth attempt by terrorists to secure his release there was no sign of tension around Azhar.

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