(CNSNews.com) – Pakistani authorities have placed under house arrest the founder of the militant Islamist group that India blames for the Mumbai terrorist attacks, and on Friday they were shutting down the offices of his “charitable” organization.
Hafiz Saeed claims the charity, Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD), is unrelated to the outlawed militant group, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), but the U.S. State Department calls it a “front operation” for LeT.
Pakistan moved against Saeed and JuD two weeds after the attacks in India’s commercial capital that killed more than 170 people. It did so under pressure from India, the U.S. and other governments, and a day after a U.N. Security Council sanctions committee imposed an assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo on four JuD/LeT members.
The four included Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, LeT’s operations chief, named by India as a planner of the attacks. He was arrested in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir earlier this week.
Another of the four was named as Mahmoud Bahaziq, a Saudi described as having overseen LeT fund-raising activities in Saudi Arabia.
Saeed founded LeT in the 1980s to fight against Indian control in Kashmir, the Muslim-majority region divided between Pakistan and India and claimed by both. After Islamabad outlawed the group in 2002 he threw his energies into JuD, which was not affected by the ban.
The U.N. sanctions committee originally designated LeT liable for sanctions in 2005, citing its affiliation with al-Qaeda. Its actions Wednesday’s included naming JuD as an alias for LeT.
The State Department praised the committee actions, saying they would “limit the ability of known terrorists to travel, acquire weapons, plan, carry out, or raise funds for new terrorist attacks.”
According to a U.S. Treasury Department document issued last May, Lakhvi directed LeT’s military operations in South Asia, Chechnya, Bosnia and South-East Asia, and in 2004 had sent operatives and funds to attack U.S. forces in Iraq.
India based its allegations relating to the Mumbai attacks on intelligence information and the interrogation of the sole surviving gunman. The gunman was one of 10 heavily armed men – all Pakistanis, according to Indian investigators – who attacked targets including luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish center over a 60-hour period.
U.S. officials backed India’s assertions, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying there was “no doubt” the attacks were planned on Pakistani soil.
Pakistan’s nine-month-old civilian government is under fire from Islamists for action they regard as bowing to pressure from the U.S. and archrival India.
Qazi Hussain Ahmad, leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist political party, called the crackdown cowardly and said India had failed to produce any proof that Pakistani citizens were involved in the “Mumbai incidents.”
“India and America have connived to implicate Pakistan into the Mumbai incidents to carry out their nefarious designs,” Jamaat-e-Islami said in a statement.
Qazi also praised what he called “Kashmiri freedom fighters waging glorious struggle against Indian occupant army” in Kashmir.
‘Known for our humanitarian work’
Shortly before his arrest, and after the U.N. sanctions decision was announced, Saeed called a press conference to condemn the move, which he attributed to “malice and enmity towards Islam.”
He said JuD was writing to the Security Council to complain and would also take up the matter before the International Court of Justice and in Pakistan’s courts.
Saeed described JuD as “an organization which advocates peace and harmony and clearly distinguishes between terrorism and religion while working for and calling people to Islam.”
The charity was known for its relief work following earthquakes in Kashmir in 2005 and another one in Pakistan’s Balochistan province earlier this year, he said. The U.N. had acknowledged its efforts and even registered it as a non-governmental relief organization.
In 2006, the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution think tank, said in a report that JuD and other Islamist and jihadi groups had played a prominent role in relief efforts after the 2005 quake, which killed some 80,000 people.
Jawad Hussain Qureshi, a South Asia analyst for the group, said JuD ran a field hospital, surgical camps and ambulance services, constructed shelters and provided power generators.
“Whether knowingly or out of ignorance,” he wrote, NGOs and U.N. agencies established working relationships with some of these groups. In JuD’s case, it had reportedly worked with agencies including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, the World Food Program and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Qureshi said implications of the Islamist groups’ involvement including the spreading of Islamist education (JuD called for earthquake orphans to be handed over for Islamic education); and the spreading of the Islamist groups’ political influence.