New Delhi: Italian journalist Francesca Marino has claimed that the air strikes conducted by India in Pakistan’s Balakot killed anywhere between “130 and 170” Jaish-e-Mohammed “cadre”.
In a blog written Tuesday, Marino claimed some had died later during treatment, and 45 people were still undergoing treatment after the attack.
Marino’s claims come more than two months after the Indian Air Force conducted air strikes in Balakot on 26 February, 12 days after a suicide attack in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, killed 40 CRPF personnel.
The strikes and the subsequent listing of JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council have become a major poll plank for the ruling BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.
Marino’s Twitter bio describes her as a journalist, writer, specialist of South Asia and author of Apocalypse Pakistan with B. Natale. She has appeared on several Indian news channels to speak on Balakot. Days after the attacks, she had claimed that the Pakistan Army carried away 35 bodies from Balakot after the strikes.
In Tuesday’s blog, Marino claimed she had gathered the information from her sources, despite “Pakistan’s efforts to deceive the world on the Indian airstrikes” on the Jaish-e-Mohammed camp.
She wrote that the IAF strike was carried out at around 3.30 am.
“According to my information, an Army unit, from their camp in Shinkiari, arrived at the location of the strike on 26 February at around 6 am, two-and-a-half hours later,” she claimed. “Shinkiari is around 20 km away from Balakot… (and) is also a base of the Pakistan Army, with the Junior Leaders Academy (JLA) located there.”
Marino wrote that immediately after the Army unit’s arrival, the injured were taken to a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen camp located in Shinkiari, and treated by Pakistan Army doctors.
“Local sources say around 45 persons are still undergoing treatment in this camp, while around 20 have died during treatment due to serious injuries. Those who have recovered are still in custody of the Army and have not been discharged,” she claimed.
“Based on the different inputs that have been gathered over the last several weeks through my contact, it can now also be safely said that the impact of the strike immediately killed a large number of JeM cadres. The numbers estimated have ranged from 130-170, including those who have died during treatment. Those killed included 11 trainers, ranging from bomb makers to those imparting weapons training.”
Marino’s blog post also claimed that two of the trainers were from Afghanistan, and in order to prevent news on the fatalities leaking through statements of family members, a group of JeM members visited the families of those killed and handed over cash compensation to them.
She claimed that adjacent to the Blue Pine Hotel, located on the foothill from where one starts the trek for the JeM camp, is a freshly painted signboard that indicates the presence of the Taleem-ul-Quran on the hilltop.
“Unlike the earlier board, all links to JeM leader and now internationally proscribed terrorist Masood Azhar has (sic) been removed,” Marino wrote, adding that the access to the dust track leading to the camp is still restricted, even to the local police. She claimed that apart from “a few children and 3-4 teachers, the camp has been cleared of any traces of it earlier being a JeM camp”.
“There is also talk about the JeM leadership having assured its cadres that the group will take its revenge when the time is ripe,” she wrote.