On the eve of President Barack Obama’s maiden visit to India, the U.S. on Thursday slapped sanctions on Pakistan-based terror groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e- Mohammad, besides targeting LeT commander Azam Cheema, a key operational figure in the 26/11 attacks.
The Treasury Department took action against Cheema, who helped train operatives for the 26/11 attacks and was the “mastermind” behind the July 2006 Mumbai train bombings, an official statement said.
Washington’s action comes hours before Mr. Obama leaves on four-day visit to India, which has been pressing the U.S. to lean on Pakistan to take strong and transparent action against the terror groups operating from its territory.
Mr. Obama’s first halt will be Mumbai where he will stay at the Taj hotel, the scene of audacious attacks by LeT terrorists in 2008. The attacks at the Taj and other places in Mumbai had left 166 people dead and over 300 injured.
The department targeted financial and support network of the two terror groups. It also acted against Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki, head of LeT’s political affairs department, for acting for or on behalf of LeT.
The U.S. also targeted the Al Rehmat Trust, an operational front for the JeM and the group’s top leader Mohammed Masood Azhar Alvi.
“LeT and JeM have proven both their willingness and ability to execute attacks against innocent civilians,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey.
“Today’s action — including the designation of Azam Cheema, one of LeT’s leading commanders who was involved in the 2008 and 2006 Mumbai attacks — is an important step in incapacitating the operational and financial networks of these deadly organisations,” he said.
Cheema is a key commander in the operations of LeT which has been held responsible for the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The group has been closely associated with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.
LeT was designated as a terrorist outfit in May 2005.
Cheema has also been described as LeT’s surveillance or intelligence chief and has been involved in LeT’s training activities, specifically training LeT members in bomb making and skills needed to infiltrate India.
The terrorists who carried out the Mumbai attacks received some of their training from Cheema. He is also reported to have been involved in the July 2006 Mumbai train bombings perpetrated by LeT.
In July 2006, a series of coordinated bombings of trains in Mumbai killed nearly 200 people.
In 2008, Cheema was appointed as an operations advisor to LeT senior leader Zaki-Ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who was also previously designated by the UN Committee.
As of 2004, Cheema was identified as being responsible for LeT’s external operational planning.
As of late 2008, Hafiz Makki was reported to be head of LeT’s political affairs department and served as head of LET’s foreign relations department.
Makki has also played a role in raising funds for LeT.
In early 2007, he gave approximately $248,000 to a LeT training camp and approximately $165,000 to a LeT-affiliated madrassa, the Treasury department said.
It said after JeM was banned in Pakistan in 2002, it began using Al Rehmat Trust as a front for its operations.
The Trust has provided support for militant activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including financial and logistical support to foreign fighters operating in both countries.
In early 2009, several prominent members of the Trust were recruiting students for terrorist activities in Afghanistan.
The Trust has also been involved in fundraising for JeM, including for militant training and indoctrination at its mosques and madrassas.
As of early 2009, the Trust had initiated a donation program in Pakistan to help support families of militants who had been arrested or killed. And in early 2007, it was raising funds on behalf of Khudam-ul Islam, an alias for JeM.
The Trust has also provided financial support and other services to the Taliban, including financial support to wounded Taliban fighters from Afghanistan.
Mohammed Masood Azhar Alvi founded JeM in 2000 and is the head of Al Rehmat Trust. He is also a former leader of the terrorist group Harakat al Mujahadin, also known as Harakat ul-Ansar; most of these groups’ members subsequently joined JeM under Azhar’s leadership.
In 2008, JeM recruitment posters in Pakistan contained a call from Azhar for volunteers to join the fight in Afghanistan against Western forces.