Mumbai attacks suspect Hafiz Saeed jailed in Pakistan

The preacher was convicted of being part of a banned terrorist group and possessing illegal property

FILE PHOTO: Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of the banned Islamic charity Jamat-ud-Dawa, looks over the crowed as they end a "Kashmir Caravan" from Lahore with a protest in Islamabad, Pakistan July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Caren Firouz/File Photo
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A prominent extremist leader suspected of masterminding the Mumbai attacks has been jailed for five years for terrorism financing crimes by a Pakistani court.

Hafiz Saeed had been one of the world's most wanted terrorism suspects, with both India and America alleging he was behind the 2008 attacks which killed 166 in India's largest city.

The firebrand preacher been facing six charges of financing terrorism at an antiterrorism court in Lahore and has been convicted of two counts, prosecutor Abdul Rauf Watto told The National. It was not immediately clear whether the other charges remain to be tried or were dropped.

Saeed has been one of Pakistan's most well known hardliners, founding the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group in the 1990s. When the group was banned, he became head of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) which he claims is a humanitarian organisation, but the US says is merely a front for LeT.

Washington in 2012 announced a $10 million (Dh30m) bounty for information leading to his arrest and conviction.

While the 68-year-old had been detained before and has spent periods under house arrest, until last year he had never been charged or put on trial. India had accused Pakistan of refusing to bring him to justice; his freedom to continue holding rallies and oversee his foundations helped poison relations between Delhi and Islamabad.

Prosecutors last year registered more than a more than a dozen cases against Saeed and his associates alleging they were using charitable fronts to raise money destined for banned militant outfits.

Saeed was on Wednesday found guilty of "being part of a banned terrorist outfit" and for "having illegal property", his lawyer Imran Gill told AFP. He was sentenced to two, five-and-a-half-year sentences to run concurrently.

His conviction comes only days before a meeting of the international watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF), to decide whether to blacklist Pakistan for its failure to curb money laundering and terrorism financing.

Analysts have suggested the FATF scrutiny and a desire to reset ties with Washington have pressured Pakistan to rein in the extremist. The FATF is currently holding Pakistan on a cautionary “grey list”, but further sanctions would be a damaging blow to its already stumbling economy.

Pakistan has long been accused of sponsoring and harbouring extremist militants to provide foreign policy muscle in Kashmir, India and Afghanistan. Refusal to take action against militant proxies sheltering on its soil has been one of the main irritants in the relationship between Islamabad and Washington.

Crackdowns have been conducted under international pressure before, but have appeared half-hearted or cosmetic. Islamabad announced a new purge a year ago after a suicide bombing claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad nearly brought it to war with India.

JuD was banned in that purge. The government has take over schools, mosques, seminaries and properties linked to Saeed's charities.