By Lalit K Jha
(Eds: Updating with more inputs)
Washington, Feb 13 (PTI) The US has welcomed the conviction of Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed and said that his sentencing is an important step forward for Pakistan in meeting its international commitments to combat terror financing and holding the LeT accountable for its crimes.
The statement of a top State Department official came after Saeed, a UN designated terrorist whom the US has placed a USD 10 million bounty on, was sentenced to 11 years in two terror financing cases on Wednesday, four days ahead of a crucial meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris where Pakistan will present its case to escape from being blacklisted.
According to Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice G Wells, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said it is in the interest of his country's future that it does not allow non-state actors to operate from its soil.
She said in a tweet: "Today's conviction of Hafiz Saeed and his associate is an important step forward – both towards holding LeT accountable for its crimes, and for Pakistan in meeting its international commitments to combat terrorist financing".
Saeed, the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack and Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief, was arrested on July 17 in the terror financing cases. The 70-year-old fiery cleric is lodged at the high-security Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore.
Anti-terrorism court Judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta sentenced Saeed and his close aide Zafar Iqbal to five and a half years each and imposed a fine of Rs 15,000 in each case. A total of 11 years sentence will run concurrently.
The crackdown on Saeed's outfit last year followed a warning by the international terror financing watchdog to Pakistan to deliver on its commitments to curb terror financing and money laundering.
The verdict comes four days ahead of the crucial meeting of the FATF from February 16 to 21 in Paris where Pakistan will present its case to get itself off the Grey List.
The FATF in October last decided to keep Pakistan on its 'Grey List' for its failure to curb funnelling of funds to terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad.
If not removed off the list by April, Pakistan may move to a blacklist of countries that face severe economic sanctions, such as Iran.
Since Pakistan continues to be in the FATF 'Grey List' , it would be very difficult for the cash-strapped country to get financial aid from the IMF, the World Bank, ADB and the European Union.
The FATF is backed by the UN Security Council passed resolutions which made its recommendations binding and in case of deficiencies, sanctions could be imposed.
Saeed-led JuD is the front organisation for the LeT which is responsible for carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 166 people, including six Americans.
The US named Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and the US, since 2012, has offered a USD 10 million reward for information that brings Saeed to justice. He was listed as a terrorist under the UN Security Council Resolution 1267 in December 2008. PTI LKJ RHL CPS AKJ CPS