Who is Hafiz Saeed and why his conviction matters

The past decade has seen Saeed in and out of the limelight owing to crackdowns by the govt on his militant organisation.
Published February 12, 2020

Hafiz Saeed, a hardline cleric accused by the US and India of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai attacks, has been a well-known, albeit shadowy, figure in Pakistan since the 2000s.

Though his media presence has dwindled over the years, the past decade has seen Saeed in and out of the limelight owing to crackdowns by the government on his organisation Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT) and its charity wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), due to mounting international pressure.

According to the BBC, Saeed founded the LeT in the 1990s; when it was banned, the revival of Jamaat-ud-Dawa wal-Irshad — a much older organisation — was witnessed in 2002 when it was renamed Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD).

Though the JuD leader insists his organisation has worked for Islamic welfare, especially in the aftermath of natural disasters, the United States has maintained that the group is a front for militant activities.

Who is Hafiz Saeed?

According to a report by Newsweek, Saeed, who originally hails from Sargodha, obtained a postgraduate degree from Punjab University (PU) in Arabic and Islamic Studies.

His father, Maulana Kamaluddin, was a religious scholar, as was his uncle and eventual LeT leader Maulana Hafiz Abdullah.

The report, citing the Nida-e-Millat magazine, adds that Saeed participated in Jamaat-e-Islami's election campaign in 1970 but was put off by its politics following their loss. He further turned against democracy after the fall of Dhaka in 1971.

After graduating from PU in 1974, Saeed was appointed as a lecturer at Lahore’s University of Engineering and Technology (UET) in the Islamiat Department. During his time at UET, Saeed travelled to Saudi Arabia for higher studies, graduating from King Saud University, the Newsweek report adds.

In 1979, Saeed joined Afghan mujahid Abdur Rasul Sayyaf’s training camp. It was at the camp that he met Abdullah Azzam, a founding member of Al Qaeda who had also taught Osama bin Laden.

The 'Army of the Pure' and its 'welfare' wing

Founded in the 1980s to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan, LeT loosely translates to ‘The Army of the Pure’. In the 1990s, the organisation reinvented itself for “jihad” in occupied Kashmir.

A UN report citing Afghan officials had also claimed that the organisation was sending fighters to Afghanistan's eastern Nuristan province, AFP had reported in 2015.

Read more: Who's afraid of the Islamic State?

In 2015, Arif Jamal, the author of a study on JuD, had said that the popularity of the LeT rested on its stance on occupied Kashmir and its charitable work.

Its charitable wing is like a “shield” which protects JuD, Jamal had told AFP.

The US and the $10m bounty

The JuD has always denied any link to violence, and within Pakistan the organisation enjoys a high degree of popularity for the work of its charitable arm. Saeed has also repeatedly denied his involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people, including six Americans, were killed.

In 2012, the JuD leader became the subject of much focus when Washington announced a $10m bounty for information leading to his arrest and conviction.

However, the JuD chief termed the bounty “ridiculous and misguided”, BBC had reported.

In a rare interview in 2014, Hafiz Saeed told the BBC he had nothing to do with the Mumbai attacks.

Crackdown against JuD

In early 2017, the federal government launched a crackdown against the JuD, placing Saeed under house arrest. However, Saeed was released in November 2017 after the Lahore High Court refused to extend the period of his confinement.

In 2018, Pakistan endorsed the United Nations' list of banned terrorist organisations by extending the ban on the outfit in Pakistan as well. Prior to this, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan had barred JuD and several other such organisations named in a list of banned outfits by the United Nations Security Council from collecting donations in the country.

The country-wide ban was imposed after former president Mamnoon Hussain amended the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997 and issued the amended Anti-Terrorism Ordinance, 2018.

The move came just days before a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting was to take place in Paris. It was feared that the FATF, under pressure from the US and India, would place Pakistan on its grey list, which in turn would raise the cost of doing international financial transactions for Pakistan.

The development meant the LeT and the JuD which were among the 27 banned outfits on the UN list would be declared proscribed and their assets frozen. Despite these measures, Pakistan was placed on the FATF grey list in July 2018.

FATF and the battle against terror financing

In February 2019, the FATF warned Pakistan to deliver on its commitments to curb terror financing and money laundering.

Risks to the global financial system virtually put the country’s entire machinery into an aggressive mode to show tangible progress within two months of the warning.

Read more: Pakistan on FATF’s grey list: what, why, and why now?

In February 2019, the government announced a ban on the JuD and the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, the charity arm of the JuD, to partially address the concerns raised by India that Pakistan supported these and six similar organisations, including the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), or at least considered them low-risk entities.

Law enforcement agencies over the next few weeks intensified their crackdown on the JeM, the JuD, the FIF and other banned outfits, and arrested more than 100 activists. Nearly 200 seminaries besides hundreds of other facilities and assets associated with them across the country were taken over by the government.

In the latest FATF review held in October 2019, it was revealed that while Pakistan had made significant improvements, it will have to take "extra measures" for the "complete" elimination of terror financing and money laundering.

Saeed arrested and indicted

The JuD chief was arrested once more by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) in July last year, while he was travelling from Lahore to Gujranwala. Prior to his arrest, 23 first information reports (FIRs) had been registered against JuD leaders, including Saeed and JuD Naib Emir Abdul Rehman Makki, at police stations in Lahore, Gujranwala, Multan, Faisalabad and Sargodha.

According to the CTD, the JuD was financing terrorism from the funds collected through non-profit organisations and trusts including Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawatul Irshad Trust, and Muaz Bin Jabal Trust. These non-profit organisations were banned in April last year as the CTD, during detailed investigations, found that they had links with the JuD and its top leadership.

Subsequently, Saeed was nominated in about 29 cases pertaining to terror financing, money laundering as well as illegal land grabbing.

On February 6, the verdict in two such cases filed by the CTD's Lahore and Gujranwala chapters was reserved by a Lahore Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC).

The verdict was expected to be announced on February 8 but was delayed after the court said it would decide a fresh application filed by the lawyers of Saeed and his associates.

The latest petition by Saeed had demanded that collective verdicts be issued after trials in all the pending cases are concluded. A prosecutor had opposed the application and argued that the court could announce its verdict in cases wherein arguments had been closed.

The court, however, deferred the decision and sought arguments on the application from both sides on Feb 11.