ISLAMABAD: The sentencing of Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed to 31 years imprisonment by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan seems to be a stage-managed show by the country for the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF), writes Sergio Restelli for The Times of Israel.
Pakistan, grey-listed by FATF in the past few years, is desperate to prove its seriousness in curbing the terror financing operating in the country and has thus resorted to using its old tactics of sentencing terrorists who will later be freed by the higher courts of the country. After the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Saeed and his cohorts have been sentenced by Pakistan on numerous occasions, however, every time, the prosecution is challenged in a higher court and the judges have been eager to dispose of the cases.
Hafiz Saeed is an infamous terrorist who has survived all kinds of scrutiny and sanctions and lived to tell the tale of Pakistan’s deep relationship with jihad. He lives in plain sight of everyone, runs a corporate empire, and has ties with the Pakistan Army and several political leaders. He is also the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a global terrorist group involved in several terrorist attacks across the world, including the one in Mumbai, writes Restelli.
Moreover, Saeed has been fundraising through various charity fronts and voluntary contributions from Pakistan political leaders and businessmen. However, none of these patrons has been held accountable for terror financing, despite these facts being in the public domain for a long time.
Thus, the Pakistan government finally waking up to these facts in July 2019 and ordering action to be taken against Saeed and his group for terrorist financing seems to be a desperate attempt to put up a good show for the FATF.
Notably, these actions come after Pakistan was first time grey-listed by FATF in June 2018 and was given one year to fulfil a checklist of requirements to be white-listed. Increased pressure from FATF after inaction for a year and the possibility of being blacklisted for not complying with the watchdog’s requirements became the country’s drive to take action against terrorist groups, according to Restelli.
Finally, four years after being sanctioned, Pakistan has taken a step against LeT and its chief. However, had the country been serious about prosecuting terror, Saeed should have been long ago charged with terrorism, tried and prosecuted under harsh anti-terrorism laws. (ANI)
Details of the case
An anti-terrorism court awarded a combined sentence of 33 years imprisonment to Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed on Friday in two cases of terror financing registered by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD).
Judge Ejaz Ahmad Buttar handed down the guilty verdict in two FIRs from 2019 under various sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 1997.
In one of the cases, the judge awarded five-year imprisonment each under sections 11-H (2), 11-I, 11-J(2), and 18 months jail under section 11-F(2) of the ATA.
In the other case, the judge awarded a five-year sentence each under sections 11-N, 11-I, 11-J(2) and an 18-month jail term under section 11-F(6) of the ATA. The judge imposed a collective fine of Rs340,000 on Hafiz Saeed in both cases. All the sentences will run concurrently.
Judge Ejaz Buttar observed that the prosecution had established the charges of terror financing against the JuD chief and his role in collecting funds for terrorist activities.
“The evidence presented by the prosecution against Hafiz Saeed and Al Dawatul Irshad, an outlawed organisation, was tangible and convincing.”
Several leaders of the JuD, including Hafiz Saeed, are already under detention since July 2019. They had been convicted on the basis of FIRs registered by the CTD on charges of terror financing. Trial proceedings in several others are pending.
The CTD had registered as many as 41 FIRs against the JuD leaders in different cities. Trial courts have so far decided 27 cases.
The sentence is the latest for Saeed, who was arrested in 2019. He was sentenced the following year to 15 years in a separate case, also on charges of terror financing.
Saeed, designated a terrorist by the US Justice Department and with a $10 million bounty on his head, has never been charged in connection with the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.
He has been serving the 15-year term at home under a government order. His lawyer, Naseeruddin Nayyar, said Saeed can appeal the latest sentence.
Saeed is the founder of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group, which was blamed for the Mumbai attacks. The group was active for years in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is split between Pakistan and India but claimed by both in full.
Following his arrest, the Pakistani government seized Saeed’s extensive network of mosques, schools, seminaries and charities and other assets in the country. Under Pakistani law and unless a sentence is thrown out or reduced on appeal, Saeed will have to serve them consecutively.