NEW DELHI: India on Tuesday carried out a major anti-terror strike against Pakistan based and Pakistan-sponsored group Jaish-e-Mohammad destroying a key camp run by UN proscribed terrorist Masood Azhar's kin Maulana Yousuf Azhar, alias Ustad Ghouri.
"The selection of the target was conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties.
The facility is located in a thick forest on a hilltop far away from any civilian presence," Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told reporters here.
"In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot.
Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the 'fidayeen jihadis' were being trained for this purpose.
In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary," he said.
"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.
This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar alias Ustad Ghouri, the brother-in-law of Masood AZhar, Chief of JeM.
"The Government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism.
Hence this non-military preemptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp," he said.
"This organization (JeM), which is prescribed by the UN, has been responsible of a series of terrorist attacks, including on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the Pathankot airbase in January 2016," he said.
On February 14, a suicide terror attack was conducted by JeM leading to the martyrdom of 40 brave jawans of the CRPF.
"JeM has been active in Pakistan for the last two decades, and is led by Masood Azhar with its headquarters in Bahawalpur".
"Information regarding the location of training camps in Pakistan and PoJK (Pak-Occuppied Jammu and Kashmir) has been provided to Pakistan from time to time," Mr Gokhale said, adding that Pakistan, however, denies their existence.
"The existence of such massive training facilities capable of training hundreds of jihadis could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistan authorities," he said.
He further said, "India has been repeatedly urging Pakistan to take action against the JeM to prevent jihadis from being trained and armed inside Pakistan.
Pakistan has taken no concrete actions to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil".
The operation was carried out in the wee hours.
Sources said it was a "pre-dawn strike".
The Prime Minister chaired a crucial meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security which was attended by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval also.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Home Minister Rajnath Singh -- all members of CCS were present at the meeting.
Former Army chief Gen (Retd) V K Singh, now MoS External Affairs Minister in a tweet said, "They say they want India to bleed with a 1,000 cuts. We say that each time you attack us, be certain we will get back at you, harder and stronger. Salute the brave pilots of the Indian Air Forces that carried out the strike".
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is likely to meet leaders of all political parties in the afternoon, sources said.
Unlike the 2016 September surgical strike, when Pakistan was in a denial mood, on Monday it rather helplessly admitted about the strike saying the Indian aircraft "intruded" from Muzaffarabad sector and also "released payload".
"Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage," Major General Asif Ghafoor, spokesperson of Pakistan Armed Forces claimed in his early morning tweet.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has reportedly postponed his visit to Japan and said, "India has conducted a violation of the Line of Control and Pakistan reserves the right to an appropriate response".
Foreign Secretary Gokhale said, "The Government of Pakistan had made a solemn commitment in January 2004 not to allow its soil or territory under its control to be used for terrorism against India.
We expect that Pakistan lives up to its public commitment and takes follow up actions to dismantle all JeM and other camps and hold the terrorists accountable for the actions."