Pakistan begins seizing charities linked to US-wanted cleric

FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017 file photo, supporters of Hafiz Saeed, center, head of the Pakistani religious party, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, is showered with rose petals by his supporters as he arrives to a court in Lahore, Pakistan. Pakistan has started seizing assets and funds belonging to Islamic charities linked to a radical cleric wanted by Washington who was released from detention late last year. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

ISLAMABAD — Amid increasing pressure from the international community, Pakistan on Wednesday began seizing assets and funds belonging to Islamic charities linked to a radical cleric wanted by the U.S., officials said.

It was the first step against Hafiz Saeed since he was freed by Pakistani authorities in November on a court order. He is the founder of the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which was blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

His release drew criticism from both Washington and neighboring India at the time.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry issued a notification on Wednesday requiring authorities to immediately seize the assets of Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawa organization and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa is believed to be a front for Lashker-e-Taiba. The United States has offered a $10 million reward for his arrest.

Saeed denies involvement in the Mumbai attacks and claims his charities are only under a U.N. watch list.

The move came a day after Pakistan's Cabinet approved new rules in an effort to tighten the noose around outlawed extremist and militant organizations and seize their financial assets. The step was taken after Pakistan issued an ordinance, amending a decades-old anti-terrorism law, to allow authorities to act against outlawed charities, groups or individuals listed by the U.N. Security Council.

Two government officials said they seized health facilities, schools and ambulances of two Saeed charities and renamed them instead of shutting them down. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to media on the record.

Yahya Mujahid, spokesman for Saeed and his charity, angrily reacted to the seizing of assets and funds by the government, claiming the move was aimed at appeasing the United States.

In a statement, he said the government move could badly affect their charities' welfare work and deprive many people of work. He vowed to fight the government in court and insisted Saeed had been kept under house arrest without any justification in the past.

He asked supporters to exercise restraint in reaction to the decision after confirming the government was seizing their hospitals, schools, ambulances and others assets across the country.

Saeed is known for publicly supporting militant groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, which is split between Pakistan and India and is claimed by both. Many in the Indian-controlled portion favor independence or a merger with Pakistan and violence has increased in Indian-controlled Kashmir in recent years.

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