Mumbai terror attack (26/11) mastermind and Jamatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed on Wednesday was arrested in a terrorism financing case on his way from Lahore to Gujranwala. Officials of Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department confirmed it.
Pakistan government has been under pressure from Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to act against terror outfits and terrorists operating out of Pakistan. The arrest comes a day after Pakistan opened its airspace and before Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden trip to the White House to help repair its relationship with the United States. Imran Khan is scheduled to meet President Donald Trump on July 22.
According to reports, Punjab chief minister’s spokesman Dr Shahbaz Gill said that Saeed was arrested near Gujranwala. Gill said, “The main charge is that he is gathering funds for banned outfits, which is illegal.” Saeed was on his way to an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Gujranwala to seek bail. He was arrested by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) Punjab in the Gujranwala jurisdiction. He has been shifted to an unknown location. A JuD spokesperson also confirmed the report of Hafiz Saeed’s arrest.
The FATF placed Pakistan on its grey list of countries over terrorism financing. In June this year, the FATF gave Pakistan a deadline of October this year to prove that it has improved its efforts to counter terror financing failing which the country would be facing sanctions. Hafiz Saeed is a UN-designated a global terrorist and is the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba. The US has announced a bounty of $10 million for providing evidence leading to his conviction.
It is notable that on July 3, top 13 leaders of the banned JuD, including Saeed, were booked in nearly two dozen cases for terror financing and money laundering under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. The CTD, which registered the cases in five cities of Punjab, declared that the JuD was financing terrorism from the massive funds collected through non-profit organisations and trusts including Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawatul Irshad Trust, Muaz Bin Jabal Trust, etc. These non-profit organisations were banned in April as the CTD during detailed investigations found that they had links with the JuD and its top leadership, accused of financing terrorism by building huge assets/properties from the collected funds in Pakistan.
A Lahore High Court division bench on Monday sought replies from the Ministry of Interior, Punjab home department and CTD on a petition of JuD chief Hafiz Saeed and his seven aides challenging an FIR carrying a charge of terror financing. Advocate A.K. Dogar represented the petitioners and contended that the facts narrated in the impugned FIR registered on July 1, 2019 illegally described them as members of LeT and levelled unlawful allegations of terror financing. The counsel referred to a 2009 judgement by an LHC full bench against the then detention of Hafiz Saeed and stated that the petitioners were not members of LeT.
He said the Lahore High Court through another judgement issued in 2003 had also held that Hafiz Saeed left the leadership of LeT on Dec 24, 2001 while the organisation was banned on Jan 14, 2002. The lawyer pleaded that the claim of the government that the petitioners were members of LeT stood disapproved in light of the two judgements. Therefore, he asked the court to quash the impugned FIR lodged by the CTD for being unlawful and of no legal effect. A government law officer opposed the petition and stated that it was not maintainable at this stage of the case.
However, the bench comprising Justice Shehram Sarwar Chaudhry and Justice Waheed Khan directed the law officer to furnish written replies on behalf of the respondents by July 30. The other petitioners are Mohammad Ayub Sheikh, Zafar Iqbal, Syed Luqman Ali Shah, Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki, Abdul Salam, Abdul Ghaffar and Abdul Qudoos Shahid.
On Monday, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Lahore had granted pre-arrest bail to the JuD chief and three others in a case pertaining to the outfit’s alleged illegal use of land for its seminary, against surety bonds of Rs 50,000 (Pakistani rupee) each.
In February, the FATF had warned Pakistan to deliver on its commitments to curb terror financing and money laundering. Risks to the global financial system had virtually put the country’s entire machinery into an aggressive mode to show tangible progress within two months of the warning. While the meetings were taking place, the government had announced a ban on JuD and Falah-e-Insanyat Foundation (FIF) to partially address the concerns raised by India that Pakistan supported these and six similar organisations, including Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) or at least considered them low-risk entities.