India to raise Sheikh Saeed case at FATF after Pakistan court orders his release

The decision by a Pakistani court in Sindh to acquit Ahmed Omar Sheikh Saeed of murdering journalist Daniel Pearl will be raised by India at the next meeting of the Financial Action Task Force, where Pakistan’s greylist status will come up for discussion, officials said.

Read: Editorial | Pakistan is the world's most hazardous place for journalists.

The British-born Saeed has been in a Pakistani prison since he was arrested for the kidnapping and killing of the Wall Street Journal’s correspondent in Pakistan in 2002, but was in Indian prisons from 1994-1999. In December 1999, Saeed was released along with Masood Azhar and another alleged terrorist Mushtaq Zargar by the Indian government in exchange for 155 hostages aboard the hijacked IC-814. Also of significance is the fact that Saeed himself surrendered in 2002 (after he was declared a suspect in the Pearl case) to Brig Ijaz Shah, then a State Intelligence Chief, who is now Pakistan's Interior Minister.

The next FATF meeting is expected in June, but may be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, it wasn’t just Saeed’s history with terrorism in India that would be raised, but his links with Al-Qaeda and, more specifically, his role in the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. Saeed has not yet been tried in that case and the Pakistani government’s actions in the next few days would be closely watched.

If Pakistan’s federal government doesn’t file a strong appeal against the acquittal and Saeed walks free, as some Pakistani reports suggest, it would also show how transnational ‘terror financing’ norms were being flouted by Islamabad, the officials indicated.

Saeed is reported to have spent time in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya, after he was recruited by the Hizbut Tahrir from the London School of Economics, where he studied. He is then believed to have trained with the Harkat ul Mujahideen, and was allegedly sent to India in 1994 as part of a plan to have Masood Azhar released.

While in Delhi he is alleged to have befriended, and then kidnapped four tourists, including three British and an American, and held them at a hideout in Ghaziabad. The police arrested him after he delivered a ransom message calling for Azhar’s release to the BBC office in Delhi, when he returned to the hideout. In the ensuing gunbattle, Saeed was wounded. According to an officer involved in his arrest who interrogated him, Saeed was very clear that his mission was to help plan terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and ensure the release of Azhar. His purported confession, a 35-page note he wrote while in Tihar jail, details his early radicalisation and terror training as well.

Once he was released along with Azhar at Kandahar, Saeed is believed to have become a key aide to Osama Bin Laden and was allegedly a part of Bin Laden’s plans for the Al-Qaeda’s attacks in the U.S. The FBI tracked leads of $1,00,000 that Saeed allegedly wired to the main 9/11 attacker Mohammad Atta, under the name Mustafa Ahmed, but before any convictions or demands for extradition were made, Saeed was arrested for the Daniel Pearl killing in 2002.

According to a noted biography (The Exile, by Cathy Scott Clark and Adrian Levy) that detailed Bin Laden’s years living in Pakistan post 2001, Saeed was reportedly a member of a group that facilitated Bin Laden’s flight from Afghanistan, Al Qaeda’s operations, and even housed Bin Laden’s second wife Seham and her children in 2002.

Another twist in the Saeed tale came in 2008 on the night of the November 26 attacks in Mumbai. Pakistani investigators claimed Saeed used a cellphone from prison to call then Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and allegedly impersonated then India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, threatening a major Indian attack.

The call had led to considerable panic in the Pakistani establishment, and President Zardari had sent a special plane to order back the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who happened to be in Delhi for a bilateral meeting at the time.

An earlier version of the article mentioned Sheikh Saeed allegedly kidnapped four British tourists. It should be three British and an American tourist.

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 4:07:56 AM |

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