Hafiz Saeed, the Mumbai terror attack mastermind and chief of the banned JuD, was indicted on Wednesday by a Pakistani anti-terrorism court here on terror financing charges, amidst intense international pressure on Islamabad to bring him to justice. The anti-terrorism court (ATC) Lahore indicted Saeed and three of his top aides Hafiz Abdul Salam bin Muhammad, Muhammad Ashraf and Zafar Iqbal on terror financing charges. ATC Judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta directed the prosecution to produce the witnesses and adjourned the hearing till Thursday.
Saeed, 69, along with the other accused, were presented before the court today under tight security.
"Saeed and his aides' lawyers made their arguments requesting the court not to indict their clients," a court official told PTI after the hearing.
"Deputy Prosecutor General Punjab Abdur Rauf, pleading for framing the charges against the accused said Saeed and others are involved in terror financing case and the Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab police has presented evidence for it," the official said.
The official said the accused were also provided the copies of the charge sheet.
Like the previous hearings, journalists were not allowed to enter the court premises to cover the proceedings. Saeed is detained at the high-security Kot Lakhpat jail here.
On December 7, the ATC could not indict Saeed, and others as one of the co-accused, Zafar Iqbal, was not produced before the court by the authorities.
Saeed's indictment comes amidst growing international pressure on Pakistan to rein-in terror groups operating from its soil and bring to justice terror group leaders like Saeed.
In October, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) warned Pakistan that it will be blacklisted if it does not control terror funding by February next, voicing serious concern over the country's failure to deliver on most of its 27 targets.
The Paris-based international terror financing watchdog issued the warning to Pakistan while deciding to again place the country on the 'Grey List'. While asking Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by February 2020, the FATF warned that it would take action against the country.
The threat to Pakistan's economy virtually put the country's entire machinery into an aggressive mode to show tangible progress within two months of the warning, Dawn newspaper noted.
On the 11th anniversary of the 26/11 terror attack, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it is an affront to the 166 innocent victims and their families that the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack have still not been convicted.
India has said that Pakistan has allowed Saeed to roam freely and was not interested in bringing him to justice.
Asked about Mumbai terror attacks trial in Pakistan at a briefing on December 6, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, "We all know who the perpetrators of the attack were. We all know who the mastermind is. We are also aware that the mastermind of this attack is roaming freely, he is enjoying Pakistan's hospitality."
"We are also aware about the link this attack had to the elements within the Pakistani establishment. There is a certain responsibility they have, they have an International obligation to take action. You are also aware that we have shared all the evidence with them. Now it is the responsibility of Pakistan to take action," he said.
Pakistan has shied away in the past from taking action citing different excuses which of course is not working internationally and among the global community there is a feeling that Pakistan is not serious in taking action against those who are involved in the Mumbai terror attacks, he said.
The Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab Police on July 17 registered 23 FIRs against Saeed and his accomplices on the charges of "terror financing" in different cities of Punjab province and arrested Saeed.
The cases have been registered in Lahore, Gujranwala & Multan for collection of funds for terrorism financing through assets/properties made and held in the names of Trusts/ Non Profit Organisations (NPO) including Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawatul Irshad Trust, Muaz Bin Jabal Trust.
According to the CTD, investigation launched into financing matters of proscribed organisations -- Jammat-ud-Dawah (JuD) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) -- in connection with implementation of UN Sanctions against these Designated Entities & Persons as directed by the National Security Committee in its meeting on January 1, 2019 for implementing the National Action Plan.
"These suspects made assets from funds of terrorism financing. They held & used these assets to raise more funds for further terrorism financing. Hence, they committed multiple offences of terrorism financing and money laundering under the Anti Terrorism Act, 1997. They will be prosecuted in ATCs for commission of these offences," the CTD said.
But the JuD leaders deny the charges against them as baseless and a result of international pressure on the Pakistan government.
The US Department of the Treasury has designated Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and the US, since 2012, has offered a USD 10 million reward for information that brings Saeed to justice.
Saeed-led JuD is the front organisation for the LeT which is responsible for carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.