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Friday, 4 February, 2000, 17:27 GMT
Freed cleric launches new party

Masood Azhar arrives in Karachi

A Muslim cleric released from an Indian jail in a deal with the hijackers of an Indian plane last year, has launched a new party to fight Indian forces in Kashmir.

Maulana Masood Azhar made the announcement at a news conference in the Pakistani city of Karachi and said the new party was named Jaish-e- Mohammed (Army of Mohammed).

Our main objective is to fight in Kashmir
Masood Azhar
The announcement came one day before Pakistan holds a national holiday to show solidarity with Kashmiri separatists.

Indian forces have been fighting militant separatists in the disputed region of Kashmir for the past decade and has accused Pakistan of arming and supporting them.

Pakistan denies the charge saying it only offers moral support.

Hijack Special Report
Since returning to Pakistan after his release, Masood Azhar has been calling for a holy war to "liberate" Kashmir from India.

"Our main objective is to fight in Kashmir," Mr Azhar told journalists in Karachi.

"I have a big burden and I hope I will fulfil my responsibility," he said.

'Strong leadership'

Masood Azhar, who heads the new party, was arrested in India some six years ago.

An armed militant keeps guard
A spokesman for the new party said that it was the religious obligation of Muslims to free Kashmir from India called for a jihad (holy war) to achieve this goal.

He said thousands of militants had already joined the new party.

The BBC's Idrees Bakhtiar in Karachi says the new party has been formed despite the existence of a large number of Kashmiri militant organisations.

"We thought that the mujahideen (holy warriors) of Kashmir were dispersed and unorganised so we want to give them a strong leadership under which they can all unite in their struggle," the spokesman said.

Mr Azhar himself is alleged to have been a member of the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, one of the leading militant groups, and accused by India of carrying out the hijacking of its airliner.

But Mr Azhar has denied belonging to any group and his family maintains he is a religious scholar.

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See also:
10 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Freed cleric vows to fight on
18 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Wedding ceremonies for freed cleric
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Profile: Maulana Masood Azhar
15 Jan 00 |  South Asia
India pushes for hijackers' extradition
11 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Pakistan 'will not allow terrorism'
05 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Freed militants in Pakistan
01 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Hijackers 'heading for Pakistan'

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