U.S. pressures Pakistan on terror group

The Treasury Department now prohibits Americans from doing business with eight Lashkar leaders

Topics: ProPublica, Pakistan, Barack Obama, U.S. Treasury, India,

U.S. pressures Pakistan on terror group
This originally appeared on ProPublica.

The Obama administration’s decision to designate the leadership of Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba group as terrorists this week sends a pointed, if largely symbolic, message to a Pakistani government that remains unable or unwilling to crack down on the extremist organization.

On Thursday, the Treasury Department issued an order against eight Lashkar leaders that prohibits Americans from doing business with them and freezes any of their assets under U.S. jurisdiction. The suspects targeted include Sajid Mir, who was indicted by U.S. prosecutors last year for allegedly working with Pakistan’s spy agency to direct the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

ProPublica has reported extensively on the attacks and the ties between Lashkar and Pakistani intelligence. The other Laskhar chiefs named Thursday by Treasury are accused of running finances, propaganda and military operations against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where Lashkar cooperates with the Taliban and al Qaeda.

“Today’s action against LET (Lashkar-e-Taiba) is Treasury’s most comprehensive to date against this group and includes individuals participating in all aspects of Lashkar’s operations,” David S. Cohen, the undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement. “Attacking LET’s facilitation networks is particularly important, since charitable donations LET raises in Pakistan — its primary revenue source — are used to fuel LET’s military operations.”

The financial impact on Lashkar will be less than devastating, however. Although donations are a significant source of income, the militant group is also a longtime recipient of funds, arms, training and protection from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), according to Western and Indian counterterror officials and evidence in court cases.

And as the Treasury statement makes clear, Lashkar still operates with impunity — 10 years after Pakistan outlawed it and almost four years after systematic targeting of Americans and other Westerners in the Mumbai attack revealed that the group poses a formidable threat to the West.

The U.S. designation “is a way of avoiding biting the bullet, which is compelling Pakistan to act on this issue in a responsible way,” said Praveen Swami, an editor at the Hindu newspaper in India and renowned national security analyst, in an interview. “Granted, there are no easy solutions. But what is being done to persuade the Pakistani government that if they don’t do anything about it there will be a result?”

A spokesman at the Pakistani embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

The sanctions will have the political effect of exposing the Lashkar leaders and disrupting their activities, said Treasury spokesman John Sullivan.

Certainly, the designation contradicts the repeated claims by the Pakistani government that it has cracked down on Lashkar.

Based on intelligence and evidence culled from U.S. counterterror agencies, the Treasury statement describes a sophisticated and brazen militant group that operates air and naval wings, raises funds and recruits fighters across Pakistan and overseas, and even pays for favorable media coverage.

The most embarrassing allegations for Pakistan focus on Mir. He has been a target of Western and Indian law enforcement for more than a decade and technically been a fugitive even before late 2008, when Indian phone wiretaps broadcast worldwide caught him directing the slaughter by 10 gunmen in Mumbai from a command post in Karachi.

The U.S. government indicted Mir, two other chiefs and an ISI major last year. In 2007, a French court convicted Mir in absentia on charges of leading American, British, French and Australian recruits in a bomb plot and weapons procurement.

Yet, law enforcement officials complain that Mir, allegedly a close associate of the ISI, engages in open extremist activity from his home in Lahore. And the Treasury statement reinforces those allegations. As of 2010, the statement says, Mir was responsible for the security of Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a Lashkar military chief jailed in early 2009 for the Mumbai attacks. It was one of the few significant arrests in the case, but the Pakistani trial of Lakhvi and six others appears stalled.

The Treasury statement indicates that Mir has worked with Lakhvi while he is in custody. The allegation reinforces the account of Mir’s former prize operative David Coleman Headley, a confessed American agent of Lashkar and the ISI who pleaded guilty in Chicago federal court to a central reconnaissance role in the Mumbai plot and a follow-up plot against Denmark.

Headley told interrogators after his arrest in late 2009 that Mir had visited the jailed Lakhvi, a sign that Mir enjoys high-level protection, according to an interrogation report by India’s National Investigation Agency as well as ProPublica interviews with U.S. and Indian counterterror officials. The comfortable conditions of Lakhvi’s custody have enabled him to run Lashkar operations through cell phone calls and meetings, according to those investigators and a high-level U.S. report viewed by ProPublica.

Over the years, the Pakistani security forces have periodically placed Lashkar leaders in custody, usually short-term house arrest. Because of the close alliance between Lashkar and the ISI, Lashkar militants often provide additional security for those chiefs, escorting them to court, vetting visitors and coordinating with jailers, according to U.S and Indian counterterror officials.

“Lakhvi is in a loose environment in which he is allowed to make phone calls,” an Indian counterterror official said. “If this allegation about Sajid Mir is true, that means there is some kind of access in which he is allowed to have responsibility for the protection of Lakhvi. It is security coordinating between the government apparatus and the Lashkar apparatus.”

As of last year, Mir also continued to recruit militants, lead Lashkar external operations and direct terror plots, the Treasury statement says.

Another Lashkar leader designated this week allegedly has direct ties to extremist activity in the United States. Talha Saeed, the son of Lashkar spiritual leader Hafiz Saeed, has overseen the group’s media operations on the Internet, radio programs and a magazine as well as relations with the press, according to Treasury. In April, the State Department offered a $10 million reward for the capture of the elder Saeed, who holds defiant mass rallies in Pakistan.

“[Talha] Saeed founded an LET front group, which he planned to use to pay journalists to write favorable stories on behalf of LET as of early 2009,” the statement says.

The younger Saeed also figured prominently in a recent terrorism case in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. A Pakistani immigrant named Jubair Ahmad pleaded guilty in April to material support of terrorism for training in Lashkar camps and working with Saeed from the United States to prepare propaganda videos.

In response to foreign pressure, Lashkar has engaged in subterfuge to shield its activities, according to U.S. authorities. The Treasury Department accused a veteran Lashkar spokesman named Abdullah Muntazir of faking a defection from Lashkar in order to enhance his credibility and secretly engage in propaganda.

“Muntazir has been an LET media official since at least 1999,” the Treasury statement says. “As of 2011, Muntazir was still an LET media official, despite presenting himself to the media as an independent scholar on militancy issues, including those relating to LET.”

Unlike al Qaeda and the Taliban, Lashkar has preserved an alliance with the Pakistani government because it largely refrains from terror activity in Pakistan.

The U.S. terrorist designation may not have a resounding impact, but it is a necessary step in a long-term U.S. campaign against a terror organization with worrisome clout, said Stephen Tankel, a professor at American University who is considered one of the top experts on the militant organization.

“This is part of an ongoing strategy,” Tankel said. “It is intended to make Lashkar’s domestic and international operating environment just a bit more difficult and to put additional pressure on Pakistan to take serious action. And in the event there was a shift in Pakistan’s calculus and it chose to launch a real crackdown on Lashkar, these steps could aid that action.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>