Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed, blamed by India for masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was on Thursday given a jail term of fifteen-and-half years in a terror financing case by a Pakistani court, his fourth conviction this year on similar charges.
This was the longest prison sentence awarded so far to the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) chief in the five cases that have been decided against him by the anti-terrorism court in Lahore. Though the prison terms in these cases cumulatively add up to 36 years, he will serve the sentences concurrently.
The court also imposed a fine of Pakistani Rs 200,000 on Saeed, 70, who is being held in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail. However, reports have suggested he is being provided preferential treatment in the prison, including access to special facilities and visitors.
Saeed’s latest conviction comes in the run-up to Pakistan’s efforts to counter terror financing being reassessed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) early next year. In October, the multilateral watchdog retained Pakistan in its “grey list” for failing to fully deliver on an action plan to fight terror financing, giving it time till February to address what it said were “very serious deficiencies”.
FATF president Marcus Pleyer cautioned that Pakistan wouldn’t be given a chance “forever” to address outstanding issues, and said repeated failure to deliver on the action plan would result in a country being put in the “black list”.
A court official in Lahore was quoted by PTI as saying: “On Thursday, an anti-terrorism court of Lahore sentenced five leaders of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, including its chief Hafiz Saeed, in another terror financing case…for 15-and-half years.”
The others convicted by the court were all close aides of Saeed – JuD spokesperson Yahya Mujahid, Zafar Iqbal, Hafiz Abdus Salam and Muhammad Ashraf. The court also gave a six-month prison term to Saeed’s brother-in-law Abdul Rahman Makki and fined him Pakistani Rs 200,000, the court official said.
Saeed and the others were brought to the court amid tight security and media wasn’t allowed into the courtroom.
In November, Saeed was given two separate five-year prison terms under provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act for using and providing funds for acts of terrorism in two cases of terror financing. He was also given a six-month prison term for being a member of a banned group.
Saeed was also given two sentences of five-and-a-half-years in February. It was earlier thought he would serve only about five years in jail as all the sentences were to run concurrently. However, Thursday’s verdict means he will serve up to 15-and-half years.
A total of 41 cases were registered last year against JuD leaders by the Counter-Terrorism Department of Pakistan’s Punjab province, and 28 of them have been decided so far.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the action being taken against Saeed is largely because of pressure on Pakistan from Western powers and FATF to crack down on UN-designated terror groups and individuals as well as terror financing, including prosecution of those funnelling funds to terrorists.
Saeed’s repeated conviction in five cases this year is also being seen as his diminishing utility to Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, which has for long had connections with LeT, JuD and other front organisations set up by him, such as the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation.