Pakistani militant accused of Mumbai attacks faces terror financing charges

By Mubasher Bukhari and Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of the banned Islamic charity Jamat-ud-Dawa, looks over the crowed as they end a "Kashmir Caravan" from Lahore with a protest in Islamabad

By Mubasher Bukhari and Asif Shahzad

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani anti-terrorism court indicted Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai, on terror financing charges on Wednesday, a government prosecutor and defense lawyer said.

Defence lawyer Imran Gill said his client pleaded not guilty.

The charges were read as the 70-year-old Saeed was present in court, prosecutor Abdur Rauf Watto told Reuters. "He has been charged for collecting funds for banned organizations, JuD and LeT," he said.

Saeed is the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), or the Army of the Pure, a militant group blamed by the United States and India for the four-day Mumbai siege, in which 160 people were killed. The dead also included several foreigners, including Americans. LeT and its charity front JuD (Jamaat-ud-Dawa) have both been listed as terrorist organizations by the United Nations.

The Islamist groups publicly disavow armed militancy inside Pakistan, but say they offer vocal support for rebel fighters in Indian-administered Kashmir and have called on Pakistan to take the disputed Himalayan region. The two nuclear-armed nations have fought two wars over Kashmir.

Pakistan's counter terrorism police arrested Saeed in July, days before a visit to Washington by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The indictment came ahead of a world financial watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting early next year to decide whether to blacklist Pakistan for its failure to curb terror financing.

Pakistan, included on a so-called gray list compiled by the FATF, has been under increasing pressure to stop the financing of militant groups. Blacklisting would likely result in tough financial and banking restrictions that could cripple Pakistan's already struggling economy.

The United States has offered a reward of $10 million for information leading to the conviction of Saeed, who has been arrested and released several times over the past decade.

Washington has long pressured Pakistan to try Saeed, who is designated a terrorist by the United States and the United Nations. Saeed had been addressing public rallies and regularly giving sermons at Pakistani mosques besides leading a political party his charity group has founded.

Saeed has denied any involvement in the Mumbai attacks and says his network, which spans 300 seminaries and schools, hospitals, a publishing house and ambulance services, has no ties to militant groups.

India says the Islamist organizations have been nurtured and supported by Pakistan's military. The military denies having any links to the militants.

(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Editing by Kim Coghill and Raju Gopalakrishnan)