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US tightens the noose around LeT; sanctions two of its leaders

By Aziz Haniffa
September 28, 2011 22:49 IST

The Obama administration continued to tighten the noose around the Pakistan-based, Inter Services Intelligence-supported terrorist organisation, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba -- responsible for the horrific 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks -- by sanctioning two of its leaders and founding members Zafar Iqbal and Hafiz Abdul Salam Bhuttavi.

The US State Department in December 2001 designated the LeT as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation, but on Wednesday, the US Department of Treasury threw the book at Iqbal and Bhuttavi saying they are "two of LeT's most significant leaders."

David S Cohen, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said, "Over the past 20 years, Iqbal and Bhuttavi have been responsible for fundraising, recruitment, and indoctrination of operatives. By targeting the core of LeT's leadership, today's action aims to degrade its ability to facilitate its terrorist activities."

The treasury described the LeT as "a Pakistan-based terrorist group with links to the Al Qaeda network and its former leader Osama bin Laden that is responsible for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and July 2006 Mumbai train bombings."

In May 2005, LeT was also added on to the UN's list of international terrorist organisations, and in April 2006, the State Department designated Jamaat-ud-Daawa -- an alias of LET -- also as an FTO and the JuD was added on to the UN list as an alias of the LeT in December 2008.

As a result of the treasury department's action, Americans are now prohibited from engaging in transactions with Iqbal and Bhuttavi and any assets they may have in the US are frozen.

The US said that Iqbal, has served in various LeT/JuD senior leadership positions and was once considered LeT/JuD's second-in-command. As of late 2010, it said, Iqbal was in charge of LeT/JuD's finance department.

The US also said that Iqbal has also been involved in LeT/JuD fundraising activities and that in 2008, he was identified as LeT/JuD's chief of fundraising, and in 2010, Iqbal was overseeing the construction of an LeT/JuD facility.

From 2003 to 2010, it noted, Iqbal was also the director of LeT/JuD's education department. In this capacity, he has been involved in recruiting activities on behalf of the group and has prepared the curricula for schools run by LeT/JuD in Pakistan.

As of 2010, according to the treasury, Iqbal was a joint secretary of a university trust created by LeT/JuD to carry out activities on behalf of the group.

Iqbal, the US said, formed LeT in the late 1980s with current LeT/JuD emir Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who was designated as a foreign terrorist by the US in May 2008, and by the UN in December 2008. In 1989 or 1990, Iqbal traveled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with Saeed to request financial support from bin Laden, the treasury said.

Bhuttavi, also a founding member of LeT and deputy to Saeed, according to the US, has served as the acting emir of LeT/JuD on at least two occasions, including when Saeed was detained in the days after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and held until June 2009. At the time Bhuttavi had handled the group's day-to-day functions.

Bhuttavi also helped prepare the operatives for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks by delivering lectures on the merits of martyrdom, the US said, and also noted that he has issued fatwas authorising LeT/JuD's militant operations, instructed group leaders and members, and is responsible for LeT/JuD's madrassah network.

In mid-2002, Bhuttavi was in charge of establishing an LET/JUD organisational base in Lahore, Pakistan, it said.

The sanctioning of these co-founders and leaders of LeT comes a day after Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, keynoting a major US-India Partnership Conference hosted by the Brookings Institution and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said that in as much as the Haqqani Network seems to have catapulted to being the flavour or the day in terms of ISI-supported terrorist groups in South Asia -- particularly in the wake of the outgoing chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen's public allegations that the Pakistani intelligence supported the network's recent attack on the US embassy in Kabul and earlier attacks against American troops -- the other ISI-proxy, the LeT was equally on even more dangerous.

Burns asked about the Pakistan-sponsored terrorist proxies that have surfaced once again in the aftermath of Mullen's assertions, said, the Obama administration had made clear to Islamabad the threat all of these groups pose to the region and Pakistan itself.

"The President and Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton, have been very clear about the depths of our concern, not just about the Haqqani Network and the obvious threat it poses to us as well as to others in the region as well as to the people of Pakistan," he said.

"But, we've also stressed the importance of not distinguishing amongst different terrorist or violent extremist groups, whether it's the Haqqanis or Lashkar-e-Tayiba."

Burns pointed out that "Lashkar, as you know, we regard in the United States as a terrorist organisation, as a threat to us, as a threat to India, as a threat to Pakistan's future, as well as a threat to people around the world."

"And so, we believe, that there is a shared interest with Pakistan in fighting against those groups, and we believe that it is deeply in Pakistan's interest to act against that threat," he said.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC