Ahead of FATF meet, Pakistan seeks Maulana Masood Azhar’s arrest; court issues warrant
With its Financial Action Task Force (FATF) review around the corner, Pakistan on Thursday acknowledged the presence of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief – Maulana Masood Azhar on its territory and sought an arrest warrant against him, top officials in the government said.
Based on a disclosure made by Pakistani authorities, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) judge at Pakistan’s Gujranwala – Natasha Naseem Supra issued an arrest warrant for Masood Azhar on charges of terror financing and directed that he be produced in court on Friday, they said.
This, Indian officials added, is clearly linked to FATF taking up Pakistan’s case in meetings this month and February. JeM was among the groups specifically named by FATF for terror financing in its reports in the past two years. India has already provided evidence on JeM and Azhar’s role in last year’s Pulwama attack, in which 40 personnel of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed, an incident that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.
The Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Pakistan’s Punjab province moved the court seeking an arrest warrant for Azhar on the charges of ‘raising funds’. The CTD had arrested six JeM terrorists - Muhammad Afzal, Muhammad Amir, Allah Ditta, Muhammad Iftikhar, Muhammad Ajmal and Muhammad Bilal Makki, under pressure after the Pulwama attack.
Officials said Azhar’s arrest has been sought in the same case.
“The move is to duck the FATF black listing by showing that it is taking action against United Nations listed terrorists. The FATF is taking up Pakistan’s case in meetings scheduled this month and in February. JeM was among the groups specifically named by FATF for terror financing in its reports in past two years,” said an official.
Pakistan was placed on the ‘grey-list’ by the financial watchdog in June 2018 and had asked it to implement a plan of action to curb money laundering and terror financing by the end of 2019. The deadline was extended due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Azhar’s last location was said to be at a safe-house in Bahawalpur.
The CTD had said in a statement last year that it had raided the JeM’s safe house and arrested its members who were collecting funds for JeM. “The suspects were collecting funds to finance activities of JeM. The chargesheet against them has been submitted to the Anti-Terrorism Court Gujranwala and they are being interrogated,” the CTD had said.
The UN had, in May 2019, designated Azhar a “global terrorist” after China lifted its hold on a proposal to blacklist the Pakistan-based JeM chief, a decade after New Delhi approached the world body for the first time on the issue.
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