• THE DEN

2008 Mumbai attack planner Sajid Mir convicted week before FATF meet

|HT|


Further details have emerged of the arrest and conviction of top Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Sajid Mir, who was allegedly involved in directing the 2008 Mumbai attacks, with Pakistani media reporting that he was given a prison term by a Lahore court in June. Pakistani authorities had informed Western interlocutors about the detention and sentencing of Mir sometime before the plenary meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Berlin during June 14-17. The move followed pressure from several Western countries for proof of Islamabad’s earlier claim that Mir had died some time ago.

Mir, 44, was sentenced by an anti-terrorism court in Lahore in the first week of June to 15-and-a-half years in jail after being convicted in a terror financing case, the Dawn newspaper reported on Saturday. Mir was also fined Pakistani ₹420,000, and is serving his sentence at Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore, the daily cited a source as saying.

“It all happened so quietly that no one came to know about such an important court verdict in such a high-profile case, except for a very brief report in one of the newspapers, which too could not attract attention. His detention, which apparently took place in later part of April, was also kept away from media’s prying eyes,” the Dawn reported. People familiar with the matter, however, said on Friday that the Indian side had learnt from multilateral channels that Mir was arrested in April and subsequently given an eight-year prison term after a low-key trial. Pakistan has so far not informed India about Mir’s case through bilateral channels.

The Lahore-based The Nation daily first reported about Mir’s conviction on June 7. In a brief report with a Lahore dateline, the daily had said an “Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) has convicted Sajid Majeed Chaudhary, also known as Sajid Mir, in a terror financing case for 15.5 years”.

The report added, “The court has also awarded him with a fine of ₹4,20,000. He was affiliated with a proscribed organization.”

The Nation’s report on Mir’s conviction came exactly a week before FATF’s plenary meeting began in Berlin. In the past too, Pakistani authorities have announced the arrest or conviction of top terrorist leaders in the weeks immediately prior to such meetings of FATF, which had considered Pakistan’s inclusion in the multilateral watchdog’s “grey list” for not doing enough against terror financing and money laundering. FATF didn’t immediately remove Pakistan from its “grey list” at its last plenary meeting in Berlin, but said it will conduct an onsite visit to ascertain if steps taken by Islamabad to curb terror financing are “sustainable and irreversible”. The watchdog also said Pakistan had “largely addressed” all 34 action items from two action plans given to the country since 2018 to curb financing of terror groups and money laundering.

The action against Mir comes after years of dillydallying by Pakistan, which feigned complete ignorance of his existence despite a French court convicting him in absentia in 2007 for his role in plotting terror attacks in Australia.

The report in the Dawn noted that “weak prosecution and poor conviction rate of terrorists were major shortcomings that had all along hampered Pakistan’s exit from” FATF’s grey list. The report added that Mir had in 2005 secretly toured India, where he went as a cricket fan to watch a cricket match between the teams of the two countries. Mir remained in India for about 15 days on that occasion, the report said.

Mir’s name began featuring on the global terrorism landscape as early as 2002, when he attempted to purchase military equipment from the US with the help of Virginia-based accomplices. That project came to an end when the FBI arrested 11 people in what became known as the “Virginia Paintball Jihadi” case.

A bounty of $5 million has been offered under the Rewards for Justice Program of the US state department for information on Mir, who allegedly served as the chief planner of the Mumbai attacks, directed preparations and reconnaissance, and was one of the Pakistan-based controllers during the assault