Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed 166 people and injured hundreds more, has been sentenced to jail in Pakistan for five-and-a-half years on terror finance charges .
Saeed, a UN-designated terrorist and head of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), was found guilty of “being part of a banned terrorist outfit” and for “having illegal property” by an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Lahore.
The ATC sentenced him and his close aide Zafar Iqbal to five-and-a-half years each and imposed a fine of ₹15,000 in each case. A total of 11 years sentence will run concurrently.
The FIR against Saeed and his associates was registered in July 2019 on charges of terror financing at the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) in Gujranwala.
Saeed, Abdul Ghaffar, Hafiz Masood, Ameer Hamza and Iqbal were indicted in December 2019.
This is the first time that Saeed, who has a $10 million bounty on his head by the U.S. government, has been formally convicted of an offence.
Legal experts say Saeed can appeal the verdict but he will be sent to jail immediately. He is currently lodged at Lahore’s high-security Kot Lakhpat jail. The government prosecutor, Abdul Rauf Wattoo, confirmed the news of Saeed’s conviction to the media.
The sentencing comes days ahead of a crucial meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental organisation combating money laundering and terror financing, that has put Pakistan on its grey list.
Soon after the verdict was announced, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar tweeted: “Pak. remains committed to the earliest completion of its FATF Action Plan . FATF Plenary is a technical process. Irrespective of and without speculating on any final decision at the plenary, we look forward to acknowledgement of significant progress that Pak. authorities have made.”
The FATF’s next meeting will take place later this week in Paris to decide whether Pakistan stays on the grey list or not.
Foreign policy analyst Hassan Akbar believes that this is a significant step in the right direction. “Hafiz Saeed has been convicted of two terror financing cases and this demonstrates the slow yet steady progress that Pakistan is making towards improving its financial and judicial systems to deal with terror financing cases,” Mr. Akbar said.
The timing has brought up the question of whether this is related to Pakistan’s FATF case. Mr. Akbar says that while it is a fact that terror financing has been under the lens due to the need for improved systems under FATF compliance, “the fact that Saeed has been convicted speaks to a much wider systemic change. The hope is that this change is sustained and not back-peddled in the days to come”.