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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Pakistan set to seize assets linked to ‘mastermind’ of 2008 Mumbai attacks

Plans come as Donald Trump criticises Pakistan for failing to move against terrorist suspects

Hafiz Saeed is showered with flower petals  before a Pakistani court ordered his release from house arrest in Lahore, Pakistan, in Novembee. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza/File Photo
Hafiz Saeed is showered with flower petals before a Pakistani court ordered his release from house arrest in Lahore, Pakistan, in Novembee. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza/File Photo

Pakistan's government plans to seize control of charities and financial assets linked to Islamist leader Hafiz Saeed, who Washington has designated a terrorist, according to officials and documents reviewed by Reuters.

Pakistan's civilian government detailed its plans in a secret order to various provincial and federal government departments on Dec. 19, three officials who attended one of several high-level meetings discussing the crackdown told Reuters.

Marked "secret", a December 19 document from the finance ministry directed law enforcement and governments in Pakistan's five provinces to submit an action plan by Dec. 28 for a "takeover" of Saeed's two charities, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation.

The United States has labelled JuD and FIF "terrorist fronts" for Lashkar-e-Taiba ("Army of the Pure" or LeT), a group Saeed founded in 1987 and which Washington and India blame for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.

Saeed has repeatedly denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks and a Pakistani court saw insufficient evidence to convict him. The LeT could not be reached for comment.

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The December 19 document, which refers to "Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issues", names only Saeed's two charities and "actions to be taken" against them.

The FATF, which is an international body that combats money laundering and terrorist financing, has warned Pakistan it faces inclusion on a watch list for failing to crack down on financing terrorism.

Asked about a crackdown on JuD and FIF, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who co-chaired one of the meetings on the plan, responded only generally, saying he has ordered authorities "to choke the fundraising of all proscribed outfits in Pakistan".

Spokesmen for the JuD and FIF both said they could not comment until they receive official notifications of the government's plans.

Saeed could not be reached for comment. He has frequently denied having ties to militants and says the charitable organisations he founded and controls have no terrorism ties. He says he promotes an Islamic-oriented government through doing good works.

If the government follows through with the plan, it would mark the first time Pakistan has made a major move against Saeed's network, which includes 300 seminaries and schools, hospitals, a publishing house and ambulance services.

The December 19 document gave few details about how the state would take over Saeed's charities.

Washington, which has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to Saeed's conviction over the Mumbai attacks, warned Islamabad of repercussions after a Pakistani court in late November released him from house arrest.

News of the proposed crackdown came as US President Donald Trump railed against Pakistan in his first tweet of the year.

He said that the US had "foolishly" handed Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years while getting nothing in return, and pledged to put a stop to it.

"They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!" Trump wrote.

The tweet was a reference to frustrations that Pakistan isn't doing enough to control militants.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted that his government was preparing a response that "will let the world know the truth."