Islamabad: Days before the FATF plenary, a Lahore-based anti-terrorism court convicted Lashkar-e-Taiba founder and alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Hafiz Saeed, in two terror-financing cases, sentencing him to five and a half years’ jail term in each, which will run concurrently, and a fine of Rs 15,000 in each case.
The Financial Action Task Force meeting which began in Paris on February 16 will decide whether or not Pakistan finally needs to be blacklisted for failing to act against terror. “Pakistan wants to get off the grey list but it’s important to remember that Saeed has not been convicted in the Mumbai attacks case. We want to see sincere attempts to bring the Mumbai accused to justice,” an official source said.
Saeed was present in the courtroom when judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta announced the verdict. The court also convicted one of his associates, Malik Zafar Iqbal, in the same cases and awarded him similar punishment. Saeed and Iqbal were convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Act’s Section 11-F(2), which carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment for anyone found to be member of a proscribed organisation, as well as Section 11-N, which carries a minimum penalty of five years’ imprisonment for anyone involved in fund-raising for the “purpose of terrorism” or money laundering for proscribed organisations or owning “illegal” assets.
They were granted the benefit of Section 382-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows for a reduction in sentence against the period they were detained before the announcement of verdict. The court had reserved its verdict in the two cases on February 6 with Saeed’s counsel requesting that all pending cases against him be clubbed together and sentencing rendered simultaneously.
The terror-financing cases against Saeed and his associates were filed last year by the counter terrorism department (CTD) of Pakistan’s Punjab province. CTD had lodged 23 cases against members of the banned Jamaatud-Dawa.
Pak’s renewed bid to comply with FATF terms
On July 3, 2019, Saeed was booked along with 12 other JuD members in 23 cases for terror-financing and money laundering under the Anti-Terrorism Act. CTD had claimed that JuD and Saeed-led charity Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation were financing terrorism from the massive funds collected through non-profit organisations and trusts, including Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawatul Irshad Trust and Muaz Bin Jabal Trust.
CTD had banned these non-profit organisations in April 2019 after investigations found that they had links with JuD and its top leadership. On July 17, 2019, CTD arrested Saeed from Gujranwala in central Punjab on terror-financing charges and sent him to jail on judicial remand.
The action against Saeed was described by officials and observers as a renewed effort by the country to comply with commitments to FATF to curb terror-financing and money laundering.
A few months before Saeed’s arrest, Pakistan had declared JuD, FIF and six other outfits, including Maulana Masood Azhar-led Jaish-e-Muhammed, as proscribed organisations, after years of allowing them to operate freely across the country
US welcomes step
The United States, meanwhile, called on Pakistan to hold Saeed accountable for his involvement in planning "numerous acts of terrorism, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks". "We continue to call for Saeed to be held accountable for his involvement in the planning of numerous acts of terrorism, including 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 innocent people, including 6 Americans," a US State Department spokesperson said.
The statement came a day after Saeed was convicted and sentenced for five years in two terror financing cases. India has been cautious in response to the move, and pointed out that efficacy of Islamabad’s decision remains to be seen as it came just before the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) session. The US spokesperson said Saeed's conviction on terror financing is a step towards curtailing the operation of a terrorist group that threatens peace and stability in South Asia. "We urge Pakistan to continue to take appropriate legal action against individuals who commit acts of terrorism, raise funds for, or advocate for terrorism," the official said.