Led by Jihad commander, Lashkar defies FATF threat to carry out flood relief operations in Pakistan

Led by Jihad commander, Lashkar defies FATF threat to carry out flood relief operations in Pakistan
Led by Jihad commander, Lashkar defies FATF threat to carry out flood relief operations in Pakistan

New Delhi: A jihad commander sanctioned by the United States for terrorist financing leads fundraising and flood relief efforts In Pakistan involving thousands of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) cadres, government sources told ThePrint.

The massive flood relief effort is being directed from Lashkar’s Masjid al-Qadsia in Lahore, which the government claimed it took over four years ago, as part of a crackdown on the jihadist group.

Led by Hafiz Abdul Rauf – a cleric sanctioned by the US government for financing terrorism – the Lashkar flood relief campaign comes as Islamabad braces for visits by inspectors from the Multinational Financial Action Task Force (FATF ). The FATF announced in June that it would conduct on-site inspections to assess Pakistan’s request to be removed from a list of states at risk of terrorism-related sanctions.

Estimates suggest that the FATF’s decision to include Pakistan in a gray list of states found complicit in terrorist financing has cost Pakistan $38 billion in lost investments since 2018.

But Lashkar volunteers are now openly fundraising in Lahore and small towns in flood-ravaged southern Punjab, sources said. The organization has also distributed blankets, opened food kitchens and pledged to help rebuild tens of thousands of destroyed homes.

Images collected from pro-Lashkar social media feeds by the South Asian Monitor show volunteers wearing safety vests with markings identifying them as members of the Allah-o-Akbar Tehreeka political party founded by Lashkar leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed.

A relief camp for flood victims organized by Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek | By special arrangement

“The devastation caused by the floods has given all sorts of religious groups an opportunity to assert their influence,” expert Ayesha Siddiqa told ThePrint, adding: “The devastation is so widespread that people don’t ask questions. questions about who helps them.”

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Leaders of the Lashkar resurgence

Listed by counter-terrorism authorities in the United States as the head of the LeT’s charitable wing, the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, Rauf is believed to have been born in Sialkot in 1973.

There is little documentation of Rauf’s role in the organization, but US government records suggest he was appointed head of the LeT’s charitable wing in mid-2010. The Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation was designated by the United Nations Security Council as a front for Lashkar in 2012.

Footage obtained by ThePrint, however, shows Rauf regularly delivering sermons at the Masjid al-Qadsia, years after Pakistan’s Punjab district administration took control of the mosque, as well as the sprawling Lashkar headquarters in Muridke. .

In a July 22 speech, days after Pakistan notified the FATF that it had secretly tried and sentenced key 26/11 perpetrator Sajid Mir, Rauf urged a congregation to show they “n was not afraid of the sanctions imposed to invite the world to Islam”. After Kabul fell to the Taliban last year, Rauf gave another speech, attacking the United States and hailing “the victory of Islam and Muslims”.

Talha Saeed – Hafiz Saeed’s son and likely successor – was also seen giving speeches at Masjid al-Qadsia and other mosques in Lahore on more than one occasion. In 2019, Talha survived an assassination attempt at Masjid Ali-o-Murtaza on the outskirts of Lahore, where he was delivering a sermon to Lashkar supporters.

Take advantage of misery

Lashkar is known to use charity operations to expand his influence.

The organization’s main campus in Muridke includes al-Dawa Model School, a science university and al-Aziz Hospital, all of which provide high-quality services to the poor. Free education, medical care and ambulance services enable it to reach constituencies across Pakistan, according to expert Animesh Roul.

The group even took advantage of the misery caused by the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and the floods of 2010 to expand its reach.

Contrary to Islamabad’s claims, all evidence points to Lashkar’s charitable infrastructure continuing to grow after 11/26, with the group even setting up drinking water infrastructure in southern Pakistan and providing aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Prior to the 11/26 attacks, front organizations of terror-linked Islamist groups — Lashkar, Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), and Jama’at-e-Islami — raised more than $100 million each year in charitable donations of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a leaked US diplomatic cable recorded on November 13, 2008.

Much of these charitable donations, according to the cable, were used to compensate jihadists killed in counter-terrorism operations in areas like Kashmir, as well as to recruit cadres from “families with multiple children, especially those facing serious financial difficulties in the country”. in the light of inflation, low agricultural yields and rising unemployment”.

Among these recruits was Muhammad Ajmal Kassabon 11/26 attacker later hanged for his role in the bombings. Similar cases, like that of a teenage terrorist arrested Ali Babar Patran, have surfaced regularly.

Lashkar impunity

Facing international pressure after the September 11 attacks, Pakistan imprisoned Saeed and other Lashkar leaders at least nine times – only to have him released weeks or months later.

“Even though Said technically does not roam the streets, the Pakistani government’s inability to win the case against him is embarrassing,” the US ambassador said at the time. in IslamabadAnne Patterson, wrote in a 2009 diplomatic cable.

The threat of FATF sanctions, however, forced Pakistan’s hand, leading to Said’s conviction in 2020 for financing terrorism. Lashkar leaders Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Abdul Rehman Makki were also sentenced to prison terms, along with several low-level figures.

However, after the 2020 sentencing, Saeed was quietly evacuated from Kot Lakhpat Prison in Lahore and returned to his three-storey white house at 116E Johar Town in Lahore. His whereabouts were revealed when he was targeted by a bomb attack on the eve of a FATF meeting in October 2020.

Lakhvi, for her part, reportedly had unrestricted access to visitors and the internet in prison. He was even rumored to have fathered a child.

Key Lashkar commanders, such as the 11/26 defendants coach Muzammil Bhat and Sajid Saifullah Jatt, remained active.

(Editing by Amrtansh Arora)

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