The truth behind the sentencing of the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and Pakistani terrorist, Hafiz Saeed, to five-and-a-half years in prison is out sooner than what would have left India’s western neighbour with some room to manoeuvre. The terrorist can also be released after the next meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The Pakistani court that sentenced the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba-turned-Jamaat-ud-Dawah deliberately left in the arrest order such loopholes, due to which he can be released anytime.
The FATF is scheduled to meet in Paris on Sunday, 16 February, where the international body that keeps a watch on terror-financing will decide whether to keep Pakistan in its grey list, move it to the blacklist or put it in the white list. Earlier, the FATF had ordered Pakistan to take necessary steps to curb money laundering and terror financing. The meeting will make a decision on the basis of the extent of work Pakistan has done in this direction.
On Wednesday, a Pakistani anti-terrorism court had convicted Saeed in two cases of terror financing running in Lahore and Gujranwala. The court sentenced the Jamaat ud Dawah (JuD) head to five-and-a-half years in prison in both the cases and imposed a fine of Rs 15,000 wherein the punishments were supposed to run concurrently.
Saeed’s lawyer said he would challenge the court’s decision in the Lahore High Court. Saeed has been convicted under Section 11-F (2) of the Anti-Terrorism Act of Pakistan. The court gave the convict the benefit of section 382-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure (reduction in the term of imprisonment).
The court directed the authorities to keep Saeed in custody till further orders. ATC Judge Arshad Hussain Bhatta announced the verdict. The court had on 6 February reserved its decision in the two cases. Saeed was accused in other cases related to money laundering, terror financing and land grabbing.
The Lahore and Gujranwala chapters of the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Pakistan had filed the cases against Saeed. The Gujranwala ATC was initially hearing the case that originated in that city, but it was moved to Lahore on the direction of the Lahore High Court.
During the hearing of the cases, the court recorded the statements of 23 witnesses. The JuD chief was arrested by the CTD in July last year when he was going to Gujranwala from Lahore.
The JuD, led by Hafiz, is internationally believed to be a front of the LeT, a terrorist outfit that Indian intelligence agencies say was floated by Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence. It was the LeT that carried out the Mumbai attacks in 2008, killing 166 people, including American citizens.
However, Hafiz Saeed’s arrest was not about the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. The Pakistani court referred repeatedly to the cases of terror funding against Saeed in its verdict.
The arrest came just days before Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first US visit. President Trump had warned Pakistan, too, of dire consequences if it did not rein in terrorist groups operating from its soil.