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Businessman sanctioned by US denies militant links

September 30, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Sept 30: One of the men sanctioned by the United States for supporting “the most dangerous terrorist organisations” in Afghanistan and Pakistan denied on Friday he was a Taliban financier.

Haji Malik Noorzai said he was a legitimate Pakistani businessman trying to turn a profit in countries as far apart as Afghanistan and Uganda, and someone dedicated to teaching children about the peaceful religion of Islam.

The US Treasury Department accuses him and his brother Faizullah of raising millions of dollars for the Taliban, running an extremist religious seminary and storing vehicles for suicide bombings.

On Thursday, it announced sanctions on them and three other individuals, including Abdul Aziz Abbasin, described as a “key commander” for the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network.

Noorzai said he was dumbfounded when he heard the news of American punitive measures against him on television. “We have no connection with the Taliban, no connection with the Haqqanis. We have no need for such contacts, nor do we have the kind of money that can help run such groups,” Noorzai said in a telephone interview.

“I worked very hard to set up my business, God is my witness. I didn't give any money to anyone.”

Noorzai says he is an importer and exporter of cars and machinery from the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya and Uganda. He believes he is the victim of a malicious plot by competitors to ruin his reputation.

“We have business rivals, clan rivals. If someone in our area starts doing badly in business, they will try to malign others. I don't know who spread this rumour that we are connected with these groups,” he said.

As a result of the action, US companies and individuals are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the targeted individuals and any assets they hold under US jurisdiction are frozen, Treasury said.

Noorzai is based in Karachi, where security officials say militants raise revenues for their operations through extortion and kidnappings for ransom.

The United States says he has been breeding generations of Taliban fighters. “As of 2009, he had served for 16 years as the chief caretaker of a madressah near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border that was used by the Taliban to indoctrinate and train recruits,” said a Treasury Department press release.

Noorzai says he is just carrying out religious obligations. “Yes, we do have a madressah. It is also a private school.” —Reuters