AP Explains: Pakistan-based militant group sparks tensions

When a suicide bomber blew himself up in India's insurgency-wracked Kashmir region on Feb. 14, killing more than 40 soldiers, the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad was quick to take responsibility. The Pakistan-based group's attack sent tensions soaring between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. The disputed region, divided between the two countries and claimed by both in its entirety, has been the cause of two past wars between India and Pakistan. Although the bomber was from Indian Kashmir, the claim by the militant group caused India to launch what it called a pre-emptive strike against Jaish-e-Mohammad inside Pakistan, saying they killed a "very large number" of militants. Pakistan retaliated with a strike of its own that hit six positions inside India on Wednesday, downing two Indian planes and taking one pilot into custody. Here's an explanation of the militant organization, its origins and agenda:


Jaish-e-Mohammad was formed in 2000 by Masood Azhar, originally a member of an al-Qaida affiliate. Azhar was arrested by Indian authorities in the late 1990s when he returned to Indian controlled Kashmir after reportedly fighting with the al-Qaida affiliate in Somalia. His militant compatriots tried unsuccessfully to free him from jail until they hijacked an Indian Airline aircraft with 176 passengers on board in December 1999. They held the aircraft and its passengers hostage in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar during the rule of the Taliban, which lasted for five years until 2001. On Dec. 31, 1999 India agreed to free Azhar and two other prisoners who would also become members of Jaish-e-Mohammad. They are Omer Saeed Sheikh, a British national who is now on death row in Pakistan for his part in the killing in 2002 of American journalist Daniel Pearl in southern Pakistan, and Mushtaq Ahmed Zarghar who was released in exchange for the hijacked plane but was killed later in Indian Kashmir by Indian troops.


Jaish-e-Mohammad's activities are focused almost exclusively on Indian Kashmir and the group has been linked to Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, known as InterServices Intelligence, or ISI. Following the Sept, 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. and the decision of Pakistan's president and military dictator at the time, Pervez Musharraf, to join with the United States in it anti-terrorism war, the ISI outwardly distanced itself from the militant group, although they were accused of providing covert assistance. Jaish-e-Mohammad was declared a terrorist group by the United Nations and outlawed in 2002 but Azhar remained untouched. After 2002, the organization's leadership became unclear and some elements turned against Pakistan, with the group taking credit for two assassination attempts against Musharraf.


The militant group was involved in a 2000 suicide bombing at an Indian army camp outside Srinigar, the capital of Indian Kashmir and in December 2001 was blamed for an attack on India's Parliament in New Delhi that also resulted in a tense standoff between the nuclear-armed neighbors. In 2002, Jaish members were blamed for trying to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Attacks in 2013 and 2014 in Indian ruled Kashmir were blamed on members of Jaish-e-Mohammad, including a 2013 attack on an Indian military base. Members of the organization have also been implicated in assassinations and attempted assassinations of Indian Kashmiri leaders.