Pakistan bans Islamist groups believed to be front for Mumbai attackers

Ministry official: Move motivated by pressure from international money-laundering watchdog.

By ARSHAD MEHMOOD / THE MEDIA LINE
February 26, 2019 17:33
4 minute read.
A damaged car at the Dadar area of Mumbai, Weds.

mumbai city center blast_311 reuters. (photo credit: Stringer India / Reuters)

 
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ISLAMABAD—Under intense global pressure, Pakistan has banned both Jamaat ud Dawa (JUD), deemed by the United States and United Nations a terror outfit, and its charity wing, the Falah e Insanyet Foundation (FIF). A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said the decision was taken last Thursday during a meeting of the country's National Security Committee.

Chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan at his office, the session, attended by senior military, security and intelligence officials – attesting to the importance of the agenda – came a day before a meeting of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, which placed Pakistan on a “gray list” for terror-related money laundering early in 2018. The Task Force gave Islamabad time to take action before a further downgrade to its “blacklist.”

Participants in the meeting also reviewed details of a National Action Plan against terrorism, and it was decided to accelerate action against other banned organizations, the ministry spokesman said.

Founded by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, JUD, a Salafi group, is widely believed to be a front for Lashkar e Taiba (LET), which is on the UN list of global terrorist groups. LET members were involved in a series of well-coordinated terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed166 people and wounded more than 300 others over four days in November 2008.

Last year, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that the planners had yet to be brought to justice. He called on Pakistan to implement sanctions against them and announced that Washington was offering a $5 million reward for their prosecution and conviction. The State Department is also offering a $10 million reward for information that brings Saeed himself to justice.

Saeed has denied being the mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks and having any links to violence, yet his group is among those seeking to rid the contested Kashmir region of Indian influence. Both India and Pakistan lay claim to Kashmir and tensions there often develop into full-blown violence. LET ultimately wants to see a single Islamic nation spanning Pakistan and India.

Muhammed Jamal, a former senior Pakistani intelligence official, told The Media Line that Saeed had been heavily influenced and encouraged by Abdullah Azzam, a mentor of Osama bin Laden. The LET founder, he said, had traveled to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets.

Saeed was placed under house arrest in September 2009 but was cleared of all charges a month later, allowing him to move freely in Pakistan until authorities reinstated his house arrest in January 2017. He was freed in November of that year following an order from the Lahore High Court, which concluded that there was “nothing tangible” in the evidence against him. Both the U.S. and India issued sharp protests.

Jamal said the JUD/FIF network included more than 300 seminaries and schools, as well as hospitals, a nationwide ambulance service and a publishing house. Together, they have hundreds of paid employees and about 50,000 volunteers.
The Media Line also spoke with Hafiz Arsalan Makki, a senior JUD figure.

“We have established thousands of religious institutions and mosques where we preach to the students in order to make them good Muslims and good human beings," he said.

Muhammed Umair Butt, an IT expert associated with FIF, told the The Media Line that the foundation had broadened its network to 125 cities in Pakistan, adding that it also maintained some 100 boats to rescue people during floods.

A senior official from Pakistan's National Counterterrorism Authority who asked not to be named told The Media Line that charity and other humanitarian work by banned groups during disasters create a softer image for them among vulnerable communities. He cited Hizbullah and Hamas as doing the same in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, respectively.

So far, 67 groups have been banned by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997. A senior ministry official confirmed to The Media Line that the move against JUD and FIF had been influenced by the Financial Action Task Force’s placement of Pakistan on its money-laundering gray list, and not any particular geopolitical situation.

Syed Muzzamel, a senior economist at the State Bank of Pakistan, told The Media Line that being on the list means the country is considered a risk to the global system because of its inability to prevent terrorist financing and money laundering.

Pakistan’s situation will come up for review in May. At its February 22 meeting, the Task Force urged Islamabad to continue to address its strategic deficiencies in this sphere in order to be delisted.

Meanwhile, Najam ud din Khan, a senior official in Afghanistan intelligence circles, told The Media Line that more than 60,000 members of 21 terrorist organizations were currently operating in the country–LET being among them. Others he identified included al-Qai'da and Islamic State, as well as the Haqqani Network, an offshoot of the Taliban.

Qari Abu Sohaib Haqqani, an Afghan Taliban official, told The Media Line that claims of 21 terrorist groups fighting in Afghanistan were baseless. He suggested that the Afghan Taliban was the only group fighting against foreign forces and that talk of anything else was aimed at encouraging the U.S. to maintain a military presence in the nation.

The U.S. and the Taliban are now in talks aimed at ending the fighting in Afghanistan.

For more stories, visit themedialine.org.

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