For the first time, the U.S. Department of the Treasury on Tuesday designated a religious school in Peshawar as a terrorist training centre, but the madrassa has denied it. Defending the action which is the first designation of a madrassa that is being abused by terrorist organisations, a U.S. Treasury Department press release said this action did not generally target madrassas, which often play an essential role in improving literacy and providing humanitarian and developmental aid in many areas of the world, including Pakistan.

The Treasury designated the Ganj Madrassa in Peshawar, Pakistan, which is controlled by designated al-Qaeda facilitator Fazeel-A-Tul Shaykh Abu Mohammed Ameen Al-Peshawari, also known as Shaykh Aminullah. The activities of the Ganj Madrassa exemplify how terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Taliban, subvert seemingly legitimate institutions, such as religious schools, to divert charitable donations meant for promoting education towards supporting violent acts, said the Treasury.

However, the administrative head of the madrassa Qari Mohammed Ibrahim told The Hindu on the phone from Peshawar on Friday that his school which had around 80 to 120 children, only taught the Koran and if teaching the Koran was a crime, then even the U.S. could be guilty. He condemned the U.S. decision and said his school was 20 years old and it was not a terror-training centre. Aminullah taught there for 20 years and resigned some months ago, he added. There was no proof of the madrassa’s alleged links with the terror groups, he added.

The school is located in Hamda mosque and is run from three rooms including a large hall. Another functionary, who did not wish to be named, said terror camps cannot be run from three rooms. He confirmed that suspicion about Aminullah surfaced after the U.S. department put his name on a website. Shaykh Aminullah was designated terrorist by both the U.S. and the U.N. in 2009 for providing material support to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Aminullah fired

He resigned about eight months ago after his name was once again made public in 2012 for alleged terror connections and, following a lot of media attention, the school had asked him to leave. Meanwhile, the school, which is under the public glare, continues to function.

The Ganj Madrassa, the Treasury’s press release said, served as a terrorist training centre where students, under the guise of religious studies, have been radicalised to conduct terrorist and insurgent activities. In some cases, students were trained to become bomb manufacturers and suicide bombers. Shaykh Aminullah has directed donations provided for the school to terrorist groups such as the Taliban, which use the money to fund the ongoing violence in Afghanistan.

According to the Treasury, the school has denied any links with terror groups and said it ran on charity. Under Shaykh Aminullah’s leadership, the Ganj Madrassa had trained and harboured Taliban fighters who have subsequently been dispatched to Afghanistan. As recently as early 2013, Shaykh Aminullah was recruiting for Lashkar-e-Taiba at the Ganj Madrassa and, as of late 2012, was hosting al-Qaeda operatives there, the press release explained. Shaykh Aminullah has provided assistance, including funding and recruits, to al-Qaeda. In addition, he directs donations received by the Ganj Madrassa to jihadist fighters battling coalition forces in Afghanistan and also uses the money to train madrassa students to become Taliban fighters. Shaykh Aminullah frequently travels to the Gulf to obtain charity donations on the madrassa’s behalf.

Support network

As a result of the designation, any assets these entities may have under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from doing business with them. The press release quotes Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen as saying the action struck at the heart of the financial and logistical support network that abuses charitable donations and provides essential services for various terrorist groups. These networks provide the terrorist groups with fighters, training and supplies to carry out acts of violence against coalition forces and civilians alike.

Ganj Madrassa has several names and among these was Jamia Taleem-Ul-Quran-Wal-Hadith Madrassa, Jamia Madrassa Dur Ul Koran Wasuna, Madrasa Taleemul Quran Wal Hadith and Madrasa Taleemul Quran Wal Sunnah.