Lahore: Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed was barred by Pakistan's Punjab provincial government from delivering the Friday sermon at Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) headquarters in Lahore, where a government-appointed cleric led prayers and delivered the weekly sermon.
This is for the first time since the establishment of Jamia Masjid Al-Qadsia, JuD headquarters, some two decades ago that a government nominated cleric delivered the Friday sermon.
Saeed was never stopped from delivering Friday sermons even during the years when Masjid Qadsia's control was under the Punjab government.
On Friday, heavy contingent of police was present in and around the JuD compound since morning.
Over the years this compound is housing residential quarters, a library and book shops. "As the government has taken a complete control of the JuD compound, only a few local people turned up to offer Friday prayers. Qari Abdul Rauf appointed by the Punjab government delivered the Friday sermon which was apolitical," said an official of the Punjab government.
Before the government's action, a large number of people, mostly JuD activists and its sympathizers, would gather at the mosque every Friday to listen to Saeed's sermon.
"All other activities of the compound have been shut. All the residential quarters, the library and book shops have been sealed and police personnel have been deployed there," the official said, adding that only the mosque area has been left open for the public to offer prayer.
"The mosque area will be opened five times a day for offering prayers only," he said.
The official said Saeed and other top JuD leaders did not visit the compound on Friday. "In fact the JuD leadership has been warned not to visit the compound since it has been taken over by the government," he added.
Before the government took over the control on Thursday, a good number of JuD security guards equipped with weapons were deployed outside the compound. "Saeed requested the Punjab government to allow him give sermon on Friday at Qadsia Masjid but it was turned down," the official added.
Pakistan authorities on Thursday sealed the Lahore headquarters of JuD and FIF and detained over 120 suspected militants as part of an ongoing crackdown on banned groups.
The JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the LeT which is responsible for carrying out the Mumbai attack that killed 166 people. It had been declared as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US in June 2014.
The US Department of the Treasury has designated its chief Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and the US, since 2012, has offered a USD 10 million reward for information that brings Saeed to justice.