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Key conspirator behind 2016 attack on Pathankot airbase killed in Pakistan

Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) operative Shahid Latif, the key conspirator behind the attack on the Indian Air Force (IAF) base in Pathankot in 2016, was killed by unidentified gunmen in Pakistan’s Sialkot district on Wednesday morning, sources in the Indian security establishment said.

According to the Sialkot police statement, the shooting took place at about 5.30 am. “This morning, three unknown gunmen entered the Noor Madina Masjid in Mundeke under Daska Sadr Police in Sialkot district and opened fire while people were offering Fajr prayers. In the firing, Shahid Sahib and his bodyguard, Hashim, were killed. We can call it targeted killing. We are already calling it terrorism,” Sialkot district police officer, Hasan Iqbal, told the media. Another person, identified as Abdul Ahad, was injured in the attack.

Sources in the Indian security establishment identified ‘Shahid Sahib’ as Shahid Latif, the handler of the four attackers who entered the Pathankot air base in January 2016. Three IAF personnel were killed in the attack.

In its chargesheet filed in December 2016, the NIA had called Latif a key conspirator behind the Pathankot attack, along with JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar. It had said the attack was planned in April 2014, at a meeting held by Latif in Sialkot. The chargesheet cited information gathered from a witness who was present at the meeting. It said the witness had attended a training camp in Pakistan, and identified Latif in a photograph.

“He (witness) further stated that he was present in a meeting at a dera in Sialkot, Pakistan, some time in April/ May 2014, in which Shahid Latif discussed the plan for the terror attack at the Pathankot Air Force Station. Shahid Latif also showed the location of the Pathankot Air Force Station on Google map and told him that it was easy to attack the base as there were forests surrounding the station,” the chargesheet said.

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The NIA also cited material and electronic evidence to establish that the attack was planned and originated from Pakistan, with the active involvement of Masood Azhar, his brother Abdul Rauf, Kashif Jan and Latif – all named in the chargesheet as key conspirators and facilitators of the attack.

“It has also been established through legal intercepts and statements of witnesses that Kashif Jan and Shahid Latif had guided, equipped and launched the four terrorists, who carried out the terrorist attack at the Air Force Station, Pathankot, killing and injuring innocent persons and destroying public property. The recoveries from the scene of crime, material and documentary evidence, forensic reports and extensive call data analysis, conclusively establish the complicity of the terrorists of JeM, in the attack at the Pathankot airbase,” the NIA had said in a statement.

In October 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had designated Latif as a “terrorist” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. According to MHA, “Latif alias Chota Shahid Bhai who is Pakistan-based commander of JeM’s Sialkot sector, and is involved in launching of JeM terrorists into India” was also “involved in planning, facilitation and execution of terror attacks in India”.

A resident of Gujranwala in Pakistan, Latif came to Jammu and Kashmir in the early ’90s as part of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. He was reportedly among the militants holed up in the Hazratbal shrine during its siege in 1993. Latif went back to Pakistan after that, but returned to J&K later.

He was arrested in J&K in the ’90s, and sentenced to eight years in a case registered at the Gandhinagar police station in Jammu, but he spent eight more years in prison because the J&K Police re-arrested him under the Public Safety Act (PSA). Latif was finally released in 2010, and sent back to Pakistan.

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Around the same time, Masood Azhar, who was then with Harkat, was arrested by the J&K Police. He was released during the IC-814 hostage crisis in December 1999, and launched the Jaish.

NIA sources said investigations into the Pathankot attack revealed that Latif joined the Jaish after he returned to Pakistan in 2010 and became a key member of the outfit.

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This is the sixth such killing of a terrorist wanted by India in Pakistan in the last two years. The others include: Jaish operative and IC-814 hijacker Zahoor Mistry (killed in Karachi on March 1, 2022), Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Basheer Ahmed Peer (killed in Rawalpindi on February 20, 2023), Al Badr commander Sayed Khalid Raza (killed in Karachi on February 26, 2023), IS-Khorasan commander and terror recruiter in J&K Syed Noor Shalobar (killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on March 5, 2023), and Khalistani terrorist Paramjit Singh Panjwar (killed in Lahore on May 6, 2023). There was also a blast outside the house of 26/11 attacks accused and LeT chief Hafiz Saeed in Lahore on June 24, 2021, but he escaped unhurt.

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