A Pakistani court on Wednesday handed down a five-year prison term to a radical cleric for terrorism financing.
Hafiz Saeed is wanted by Washington and New Delhi for his alleged role in the bloody 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people in neighboring India. The US put a $10 million bounty out for his arrest.
The Pakistani court was not trying the cleric in connection with that attack, but on charges that his charity organizations, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat, are fronts for funding the terror group that he founded, Lashkar-e-Taiba. India blames that group for the deadly attacks in Mumbai.
The coordinated attacks on the city of nearly 20 million people hit luxury hotels, the main railway station, a restaurant popular with tourists and the city’s Chabad center, where six Israelis were killed.
Among those killed by gunmen at the Nariman Chabad House in Mumbai in 2008 were Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka Holtzberg. Their son Moshe, two years old at the time, was rescued on the day of the attack by the family’s nanny, Sandra Samuel, who ran out of the Chabad House carrying him. She later accompanied him to Israel, where he now lives with his grandparents.
In January 2018, Moshe returned to Mumbai, accompanying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a state visit. At the time, he invited Netanyahu to join him when he returned to the city for his bar mitzvah.
Saeed and the four other suspects were present in the courtroom in the eastern city of Lahore when the judge announced the much-awaited verdict. Saeed was given a five-year prison term on terrorism financing charges in one case, plus six months in prison in another case registered against him in the eastern Punjab province.
The sentences can be appealed. All five men pleaded not guilty during the trial, government lawyer Abdul Rauf said.
Both India and the US praised Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government when it arrested the cleric last July on the charges of terror financing.
Khan’s government has stepped up its efforts to get Pakistan off the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list, which denotes its status as a haven for money laundering.
There was no immediate comment from New Delhi over the cleric’s conviction and sentencing on Wednesday. India wants to try Saeed in its own courts for the 2008 killings in Mumbai and says Pakistan should share evidence to help with the cleric’s prosecution there.
Saeed has never been charged over the attacks in Pakistani courts, despite pressure from India.
Saaed was arrested last July. Until the terror financing case, he had for months lived freely in Pakistan, often addressing anti-India rallies for which he became popular amid a dramatic confrontation between the two nuclear-armed rivals earlier this year.
Previously, Saeed had been detained several times, along with some of his close aides, but had not been charged or put on trial.
Neighbors Pakistan and India are often locked in diplomatic spats. These usually center on their rival claims to the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between them. India also accuses its neighbor of lax efforts in stopping militants from crossing over the border into its territory.