26/11 planner Sajid Mir was arrested and convicted within weeks

Timing of sentencing of LeT deputy chief significant, aimed at winning leniency at FATF, say government officials

June 27, 2022 09:58 pm | Updated June 28, 2022 09:23 am IST - NEW DELHI

Tourists visit near the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, one of the sites of the 2008 terrorist attacks, in Mumbai.

Tourists visit near the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, one of the sites of the 2008 terrorist attacks, in Mumbai. | Photo Credit: AFP

Lashkar-e-Taiba deputy chief and 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks planner Sajid Mir was sentenced by a Pakistan anti-terrorism court in Lahore on terror-financing charges in May this year, in a speedy trial completed just three weeks after he was arrested, three days before a U.S.-Pakistan ministerial meeting and a month before the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) plenary that gave Pakistan a reprieve.

Mir had been declared “dead” by Pakistani officials as recently as in December 2021, but was then arrested by the police on April 21, 2022, convicted on May 16, 2022, and sent to Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail to serve three consecutive sentences amounting to fifteen and a half years in prison.

According to a report in Pakistan Geo News, officials said Mir was tried and convicted “quietly”, given the sensitivities around the case.

The Ministry of External Affairs in India has not commented on the case, given that the arrest, conviction and sentencing have not been formally announced by Pakistan. However, a government official said that the “timing” of Pakistan’s actions in the Mir case were “clearly aimed at being granted leniency from western countries at the FATF”.

In the sentencing order, details of which emerged on Monday, “Sajid Mir”, also known as “Sajid Majeed Chaudhury”, was sentenced to three terms under Pakistan’s Anti-Terror Act (ATA, 1997), including six months for being a member of the proscribed organisation LeT; eight years for providing financing and property to the organisation; and another seven years for knowingly providing support to the organisations for terrorist activity. He was also fined a total of Pakistani rupees 4,20,000 (approximately $2,000).

“Keeping in view the prosecution evidence and circumstances of the case, the court is of the view that the accused is not entitled to any leniency and sentences must be severe,” the judge in the special anti-terrorism court reportedly said, indicating that he was handing down the highest sentences allowed for terror financing.

According to officials, the conviction of Mir came just three days before a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto on May 19 in New York, where they discussed Pakistan’s grey listing at the FATF.

In December 2021, Mr. Blinken released the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism that made a specific mention of Mir, saying that Pakistan had not sufficient steps against “JeM founder Masood Azhar and LeT’s Sajid Mir, mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks”.

On June 17, the FATF grouping announced that Pakistan had completed its 34-point action list, and had demonstrated “a positive upwards trend” in the prosecution of individuals named for terror financing and money laundering.

As The Hindu had reported earlier this month, Pakistan won the reprieve after the U.S. and its “five eyes” western allies, including Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand as well as European countries, formed a consensus about moving Pakistan off the grey list in the next few months, after “on-site” visits in August

Apart from Mir, who is wanted for planning and training LeT recruits for a number of international terror attacks, sources said Pakistan had now committed to pursuing the conviction of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar and his brother Rauf Asghar, who have been taken into custody for “preventive detention” as well.

It is significant that Mir is yet to be tried or convicted for his planning of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, where he was identified as having recruited and training the attackers, including Ajmal Kasab, sending David Headley to Mumbai to carry out reconnaissance operations, and directing the killings during the three-day siege of Mumbai, particularly at the Chabad House.

Also significant is the fact that Mir is on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) most wanted list with a reward of $5 million offered for information about him, as well as on India’s UAPA most wanted list of terrorists as individual Number 14, with the aliases “Sajid Majeed, Ibrahim Shah, Wasi, Khali and Muhammad Waseem”.

However, he has not been placed on the United Nations Security Council’s 1267 list of designated terrorists, which the FATF is mandated to pursue, indicating that the move to nab Mir was aimed at the U.S. and other Western countries who have demanded Pakistani action against him for his involvement in planning a number of international terror cases, including the attack on Danish newspaper over blasphemous cartoons, attacks on Australian nuclear and military installations, procuring weapons, recruiting terrorists in France as well as the U.S. for the “Virginia Paintball Jihad” case that involved training LeT operatives at a paintball facility.

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