US terror tag an Indian plot: Pak body
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US terror tag an Indian plot: Pak body

Founder of one of most feared terrorist groups has accused US of pandering to India and being anti-Islam.

india Updated: May 10, 2006 13:09 IST

The founder of one of the most feared terrorist groups fighting in Jammu and Kashmir accused the United States on Tuesday of pandering to India and being anti-Islam by branding the charity he now runs as a terrorist organisation.

"All this is being done at the behest of India," Hafiz Mohammad Saeed said in his first interview since the US State Department outlawed the Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity and one of its affiliates earlier this month.

"This decision is part of the anti-Islam attitude of America. Our only sin is that we are Muslims," said Saeed, a firebrand orator who once taught Islamic studies at an engineering university in Lahore.

The United States and India have seen ties warm over the past four years and Saeed said the US ban was a goodwill gesture to India. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of arming terrorists fighting its rule over nearly half of Kashmir.

He insisted he had severed his links with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the jihadi terrorist group he set up in 1989 to fight J&K.

Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2002 after the United Nations put it on a list of groups associated with Al-Qaeda.

Anticipating the ban, Saeed resigned from Lashkar, one of the groups blamed for an attack on India's Parliament in December 2001, and became head of Jamaat.

The United States says Jamaat-ud-Dawa is just a front. Action would have been taken far sooner, according to Western sources, but establishing a legally watertight paper-trail between Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Lashkar-e-Taiba was painstaking work.

Listing Jamaat-ud-Dawa means freezing its assets in the United States -- effectively a symbolic but necessary first step.

Even if it had any money in the United States, the charity, which is believed to raise most of its cash from the Gulf and mosques in Pakistan's central Punjab province, could easily have shifted its funds before the United States was ready to act.

Moral Support

"Jamaat-ud-Dawa is not involved in any terrorist activity inside or outside the United States," Saeed said.

"We don't have any direct quarrel or confrontation with America, but we want the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to be stopped," Saeed said.

He said his charity only gave moral support to those fighting foreign occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kashmir.

Pakistan has said it won't ban the charity until the United Nations also proscribes Jamaat-ud-Dawa, even though Saeed's group is already on a Pakistani watchlist.

Washington clearly wants Pakistan to act faster against an organisation it says provides money and recruits for Lashkar.

The charity runs schools, hospitals, mosques as well as religious seminaries across Pakistan, and it boasts tens of thousands of followers even though it has no official register.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa, according to the State Department, also has links with religious militant organisations in Southeast Asia and Chechnya.

At home, Jamaat-ud-Dawa has been in the forefront in providing relief after an earthquake struck northern Pakistan on October 8, killing more than 73,000 people and rendering three million homeless.

In the quake-ravaged city of Muzaffarabad up to 2,000 people demonstrated on Tuesday against the US ban on the charity.

Chants of "Down with America" and "Down with Bush" echoed down the main road through the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, where hundreds of US army engineers and medical personnel were based between October and April to help the relief efforts.

"The Americans have gone, but we are still here serving the victims," said Ghulamullah Azad, spokesman for the charity in Kashmir, referring to the many thousands of people still heavily dependent on aid after the quake.

There have already been similar demonstrations in Balakot and Bagh, two other towns badly damaged in the disaster.

"Those who saved our lives are not terrorists," said Ajmal Shah, a villager from PoK Jhelum valley.

First Published: May 10, 2006 12:53 IST