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Pakistan Plans to Seize Control of Terrorist Hafiz Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Financial Assets

File image of Hafiz Saeed. (Reuters)

File image of Hafiz Saeed. (Reuters)

The government detailed its plans in a secret order to various provincial and federal government departments on December 19, three officials, who attended one of several high-level meeting discussing the crackdown, told Reuters.

Islamabad: Pakistan government plans to seize control of organisations and financial assets linked to 26/11 attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed, Reuters reported on Monday.

The government detailed its plans in a secret order to various provincial and federal departments on December 19, three officials told Reuters. These officials attended one of several high-level meeting discussing the crackdown.

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 December 28 for a "takeover" of Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation.

The United States has labelled JuD and FIF "terrorist fronts" for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terror group Saeed founded in 1987 and which India and the United States blame for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.

In Pakistan, however, these outfits operate under the guise of ‘charities’.

The Donald Trump administration has openly called out Pakistan for its inaction against terror groups operating on its soil.

On December 30, the New York Times had reported that the US was planning to withhold $255 million in aid to Pakistan, reflecting its dissatisfaction with Islamabad's inaction on terrorism.

"Senior administration officials met this month to decide what to do about the money, and American officials said a final decision could be made in the coming weeks," the daily said.

Saeed has denied involvement in the attacks and a Pakistani court saw insufficient evidence to convict him, which means he continues to roam free in Pakistan.

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 that it faces inclusion on a watchlist 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".

In a written reply to Reuters, he also said Pakistan wasn't taking action under US pressure. "We're not pleasing anyone. We're working as a responsible nation to fulfill our obligations to our people and the international community."

Spokesmen for the JuD and FIF both said they could not comment until they receive official notifications of the government's plans. "We don’t have any intimation about any crackdown so far," FIF spokesman Salman Shahid told Reuters. "No one has asked us about our work or assets."

Saeed could not be reached for comment, Reuters reported. He has frequently denied having ties to militants and claims the “charitable organisations” he founded and controls have no terrorism ties.

FIRST MAJOR MOVE

If the government follows through with the plan, it would mark the first time Pakistan has made a major move against Saeed's network. The JuD and FIF alone have about 50,000 volunteers and hundreds of other paid workers, according to two counter-terrorism officials.

Participants at the meeting raised the possibility that the government's failure to act against the charities could lead to UN sanctions, one of the three officials said. A UN Security Council team is due to visit Pakistan in late January to review progress against UN-designated "terrorist" groups.

"Any adverse comments or action suggested by the team can have far-reaching implications for Pakistan," the official said.

The December 19 document gave few details about how the state would take over Saeed's groups, pending the plans submitted by the provincial governments. It says law enforcement agencies will coordinate with Pakistan's intelligence agencies to identify the assets of the two groups and examine how they raise money.

The document also directs that the name of JuD's 200-acre headquarters, Markaz-e-Taiba, near Lahore be changed to something else "to make it known that the Government of "Punjab (province) solely manages and operates the Markaz(headquarters)".

The move to seize the organisations could spark some concern from Pakistan’s powerful military, which has proposed plans to steer Saeed and the JuD into mainstream politics. The military did not respond to a request for comment, Reuters said.

In August, JuD officials formed a new political party, the Milli Muslim League, and backed candidates who fared relatively strongly in two key parliamentary by-elections.

The JuD offers vocal support to militants and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, calling for Pakistan to “retake” the Indian state. Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir.

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.

Punjab's provincial government had put Saeed under house arrest for 10 months this year for violating anti-terrorism laws.