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Court indicts Hafiz Saeed on terror-financing charges

By Ashfaq Yusufzai

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Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed (second left) waves during a campaign rally in Islamabad on July 21, 2018, ahead of the general election that year. [Aamir Qureshi/AFP]

PESHAWAR -- An anti-terrorism court in Lahore on Wednesday (December 11) indicted Hafiz Saeed, leader of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its associated political arm Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), and four other JuD leaders on terror-financing charges.

Judge Malik Arshad Bhutta, who heard the case, adjourned proceedings until the next hearing, which is set for Thursday (December 12).

The JuD leaders have denied the allegations, claiming that previous courts had determined they had quit LeT before the militant group was banned by the government in 2002, Dawn and other media reported.

Punjab Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) authorities on July 17 arrested Saeed and several associates in connection with 23 terror-financing and money-laundering cases.

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Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed (left) speaks during a rally in Lahore on February 5. [Arif Ali/AFP]

JuD was financing terrorism from funds collected through non-profit organisations and trusts, said the CTD at the time. It registered the cases in five Punjab cities.

The suspects "committed multiple offences of terrorism financing and money laundering under the Anti Terrorism Act 1997", according to the police First Information Report (FIR).

The FIR accused five ostensible charities -- the Dawat wal Irshad trust, Maaz bin Jabal Trust, Al-Anfal Trust, Al-Madina Foundation Trust and Alhamd Trust -- of terror financing.

Countering terror financing

The charges against Saeed are among Pakistan's latest actions to meet the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global terrorism-financing watchdog that placed Pakistan on its so-called grey list in June 2018 because of "strategic deficiencies" in its ability to counter money laundering and terror financing.

The FATF on October 18 warned that Pakistan could join a blacklist of nations unless it changes course within four months, AFP reported.

"Despite a high-level commitment by Pakistan to fix these weaknesses, Pakistan has not made enough progress," said Xiangmin Liu, president of the FATF, adding that Pakistan might go on the blacklist by February 2020.

The decision to charge Saeed will go a long way toward putting the brakes on terror financing, said Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar-based security analyst.

"There are increased action and awareness regarding terror financing across the world, and Pakistan is under tremendous pressure to improve convictions in such cases," he said.

The latest charges will improve the image of the country, said Hussain.

"Pakistan has been facing massive risks and is required to show tangible progress, and law enforcement agencies have intensified their crackdown on proscribed groups and arrested more than 100 activists," said Noor Alam Khan, a Peshawar-based lawyer.

Authorities have seized more than 200 seminaries in the past few months and froze the assets owned by banned groups, he noted.

These actions should have been initiated much earlier, but they are still commendable because they will lead to restoration of Pakistan's status as a peaceful nation in the global community, said Peshawar-based security analyst Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah.

"Pakistan has suffered greatly from terrorism, and action against terror groups is in the favour of our own people. Therefore, the government should speed up actions," he said.

Pakistan was a peace-loving country and a handful of terrorists have been damaging its reputation on the international level, he said.

The charges against Saeed are timely, said Muhamad Shoaib, an international relations professor at the University of Peshawar.

The FATF has asked for more-effective steps to eliminate terror financing and money laundering, Shoaib said.

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