One of the key architects of the Mumbai 26/11 attacks, Sajid Mir was ‘silently’ convicted in May this year by an anti-terrorism court in Lahore in a terrorism financing case. Mir known as the ‘Project Manager’ of the 2008 Mumbai attacks according to Country Reports on Terrorism 2020, published in December 2021, by the United States (US) Department of State, was originally believed to have died in 2021.1 However, it has now been revealed that he was arrested in April 2022, and sentenced in May 2022 with a blitzkrieg momentum. From being declared dead to being convicted for 15 years in prison, Sajid Mir has become the most tracked terrorist in recent times with some in Indian mainstream media hailing this as a victory for the Indian government which it is rightly so. Looking through India’s lens, this conviction is certainly ‘a shot in the arm’, nonetheless, it would be highly premature and too early to celebrate, given the past experiences of the troughs of India’s relations with Pakistan. From Pakistan’s perspective, what forced Pakistan to give up on Sajid Mir and convict him, having declared him dead in 2021, is something which needs to be understood. And what factors would have impressed Pakistan for having convicted a ‘dead’ terrorist, more than the embarrassment Pakistan would be put to? These are the questions which this article sets out to explore.
Ten terrorists belonging to Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) killed 160 people between November 26 and November 28 in 2008 in a ghastly terror attack not witnessed before in the annals of Indian history. This terror attack lasted for three days spanning across five locations in Mumbai including the final siege at the Taj hotel. The scale and depth of planning of this terrorist attack pointed to a non-state actor backed by the deep state of Pakistan. This terrorist event is known as India’s 9/11 and has become a watershed in India’s war against Pakistani-sponsored terrorism. The international community condemned this attack and urged Pakistan to take action on terrorist groups such as the LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 (UNSCR 1267). Individually, Hafiz Saeed was designated as a global terrorist under UNSCR 1267.
Since then, Pakistan has been taking actions, albeit cosmetic, on such groups and their leaders. Hafiz Saeed, the founder of LeT has been placed under house arrest multiple times without being charged, only to be set free later. Other members were also arrested, only to be released later. LeT was operating a new charity front Falah E Insaniyat (FiF) which was also proscribed under UNSCR 1267. Though Pakistan appeared to act against these groups under sustained pressure from India and other international players such as the US and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), its actions appear dubious and deceiving. In line with these dubious actions in the past, the recent arrest and conviction of Sajid Mir also appears to be cosmetic.
Orchestrated Convictions to Evade ‘Blacklisting’
Several political commentators attribute Pakistan’s past and current action against terrorist groups and leaders, is to evade ‘Blacklisting’ by the FATF. Pakistan was brought under the ‘Grey List’ in 2018 by the FATF which is an inter-governmental body formed to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. ‘Grey Listing’ which is the penultimate step before ‘Blacklisting’, has had a disastrous impact on Pakistan’s economy and would possibly degrade its stature amongst other countries eventually blocking foreign investments and bilateral cooperation. Thus, it was imperative for Pakistan to come out of the ‘Grey List’ and it chose to do so by acting on terror groups and strengthening its legal framework. Assessing the reactions of Pakistan in response to the warnings of FATF and the US government, is germane to arrive at an understanding that Pakistan’s actions on terror groups have always been farcical after being severely reprimanded and threatened with ‘Blacklisting’ (refer to Table 1).
For instance, Hafiz Saeed was convicted on 12 February 2020, just days before FATF plenary which was held on 21 February 2020. He was convicted in two cases and was awarded five and a half years imprisonment each, which would run concurrently, meaning he would have to spend only five and a half years as against the original sentence of 11 years. And again, in November and December 2020, Hafiz Saeed was convicted and awarded five and half years sentence to run concurrently with the old sentence months before next FATF plenary session in February 2021. Not surprisingly, Hafiz Saeed was convicted in April 2022, and was awarded 32 years prison sentence to run concurrently with the older sentences of 36 years, effectively making the prison term as just five and a half years. If one factors the time already spent in jail along with the time spent under house arrest, then it is likely that Hafiz Saeed may be out soon.
Similarly, between June and October 2020, Pakistan convicted second levels leaders of LeT and its charity front, Jamaat ut Dawah (JuD) including Makki who was awarded a one and a half years’ sentence. Abdul Rahman Makki is the Deputy Chief of JuD and next to Hafiz Saeed. He has been awarded a short sentence, ending by 2022. Makki is believed to be in charge of foreign affairs of LeT and is the son of Saeed’s maternal uncle.
Table 1 – Timeline of FATF/US Actions and Pakistan’s Reaction
|Date||FATF/US Action||Pakistan’s action on terror groups||Date|
|June 2018||FATF places Pakistan in Grey list and to complete action plan by Oct 2019 Deadline Oct 2019||No discernable action|
|FATF notes Pakistan has complied with only 5 out of 27 tasks to curb terrorism financing Deadline Feb 2020||No discernable action|
|21 Feb 2020||FATF stern warning to Pakistan to act on terrorism financing Deadline June 2020||Convicted Hafiz Saeed and awarded 2 sentences of 5.5 years each in terrorism financing cases||12 February 2020|
|June 2020||Not taken up Deadline Oct 2020||Convicted Prof Malik Zafar, Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki and Hafiz Abdul Salim
Zafar and Salim were awarded 16.5 years each
Makki was given 1.5 years in prison.
|29 August 2020|
|Freezes 964 assets of JuD and JeM||September 2020|
|Oct 2020||FATF urges Pakistan to comply with 6 out of 27 items which has not been addressed Deadline February 2021||Hafiz Saeed convicted and awarded 25 years prison sentence each in three terrorism financing cases||19 November 2020
|Sentenced JuD leaders Zafar Iqbal, Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki and Yahya Mujahid. Iqbal and Yahya were awarded 15.5 years each, Makki was given 6 months sentence||03 December 2020|
|Feb 2021||Extended till June 2021||No discernable action|
|June 2021||FATF appreciates Pakistan for its since
Feb 2021 Extended till Dec 2021
|No discernable action|
|Dec 2021||US criticizes Pakistan for not acting on Maulana Masood Azhar and Sajid Mir||Hafiz Saeed convicted and awarded 33 years prison sentence in two terrorism financing cases||09 April 2022|
|March 2022||FATF appreciates progress extends deadline till June 2022||Sajid Mir convicted||May 2022|
|June 2022||FATF onsite inspection leading to taking Pakistan out of the “Grey List” Deadline in Oct 2022|
Source: Compiled by the author
From the above, one can discern that Pakistan has been acting on leaders of LeT and JuD, but has convicted second rung and lower level cadres to longer prison sentences while awarding shorter ones to the kingpins and the masterminds. In this way, Pakistan was able to portray to the international community that it was doing enough to comply with the international laws at the same time not giving away its hold on terror groups which it considers as ‘strategic assets’.
Likewise, in Sajid Mir’s case, Pakistan was forced to act as the US State Department came down heavily on the Pakistan government. The Country Reports on Terrorism 2020 released in December 2021, states, “Pakistan did not take action against other known terrorists such as JeM founder and UN-designated terrorist Masood Azhar and 2008 Mumbai attack “project manager” Sajid Mir, both of whom are believed to remain free in Pakistan”. This report came in after reports in the media claimed that Sajid Mir died in 2021, clearly indicating that the US government wanted to call the Pakistani bluff. After this scathing remark, Pakistan has attempted to save face by quietly arresting Sajid Mir and convicting and awarding him 15 years imprisonment just before the June 2022 FATF plenary which was to decide on the fate of ‘Blacklisting’ of Pakistan.
Pakistan by giving life to a dead terrorist and deliberately leaking the report of his conviction, may have succeeded in breaking the logjam with FATF which has initiated an onsite verification, to bring out Pakistan from ‘Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring’ also known as the “Grey List”. On the one hand, Pakistan has been judiciously using its expendable “strategic assets” one by one to extricate itself from the FATF quagmire, while the Indians celebrate Sajid Mir’s conviction as a victory. Between these actions, only a few may have noticed the missing “chamcha” who may prove to be Pakistan’s next expendable asset for its exit from the ‘Grey List’.
Curious Case of the Missing “Chamcha”
Sajid Mir initially reported to an individual named as Yusuf Muzammil Butt @ Muzammil. His nom de guerre is Abu Hurera. David Coleman Headley, who is one the main accused in the Mumbai terror attacks, in his confession statement, has claimed that Muzammil Butt is overall in-charge of military operations in India and reports directly to Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi (overall operational commander of LeT). Headley claims that Muzammil is the biggest “Chamcha” (BrownNoser) to Lakhvi.2 What makes Muzammil interesting is that he has been involved in a string of high profile terror attacks in India since the year 2000.
Muzammil appears to be a highly secretive figure who maintains a low profile. According to Headley, Muzammil is a key figure in LeT and has assumed importance given his knowledge of India and Jammu and Kashmir, having served there for nearly six years. Muzammil was believed to be handling an important set-up based in Muzzafarabad, which focused on India. This setup consisted of Sajid Mir, Abdul Rehman Pasha, Abu Anas, Abu Qahafa, Abu Sarya, Abdul Aziz and Abu Rehan. This setup under Muzammil played a key role in planning and executing the Mumbai attacks. Muzammil was in-charge of the control room and supervised the entire operations from Pakistan. Some of the funding s underwritten by Muzammil who is believed to have paid Rs 8.5 lakh to a drug smuggler Niyamat Shah to smuggle explosives and arms into India. Abu Qahafa who worked under Muzammil trained the Mumbai attackers at Muzammil’s setup at Muzzafarabad. The Indian authorities believe that Muzammil’s contribution in planning and executing the Mumbai attacks is relatively high compared to the role played by Sajid Mir. Additionally, he is the key architect of some of the major terrorist events in India in the past which are as follows:–
- Chhitisinghpura massacre in 2000 – Muzammilis believed to have carried out the massacre of Sikhs at Chhitisinghpura village of Kashmir just before the visit of then US President Bill Clinton.
- Aksardham Temple attack in 2002 – Muzammil is believed to have planned and executed the Aksardham Temple attack.
- IISc Bangalore in 2005 – Abdul Aziz @ Abu Rehan who is part of the Muzammil setup, is believed to have orchestrated the attack on the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) at Bengaluru. Abu Hamza who carried out the attack, worked closely with Abdul Aziz.
- Attempt to assassinate Omar Abdullah in 2010 – Muzammil is believed to be behind a failed assassination attempt of the then Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir.
For these reasons, Muzammil should gain more importance compared to Sajid Mir and should be considered as a high value terrorist next only to Saeed, Lakhvi and Makki. Because of his significance and his impressive terrorist repertoire, a Red Corner Notice has been issued against Muzammil. Despite being highlighted by the Indian authorities, the Pakistani establishment has remained mute on his current status for reasons unknown, possibly indicating that he may be used later if the situation demands so.3 He was believed to have been arrested in a raid on an LeT camp at Shawai Nullah near Muzzafarabad in 2009.4 Bill Roggio who writes for Long War Journal, claims that Muzammil was planning attacks against India despite being in custody of the Pakistani authorities.5 However, that news has not been confirmed and appears to be a usual cover story floated by the Pakistani media at the behest of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). His current whereabouts are not known. This dearth of information about Muzammil, appears to have an eerie similarity with the reports of Sajid Mir’s death in 2021, and subsequent resurrection and conviction in May 2022. This leads us to the question whether Muzammil will be used by Pakistan as the next expendable asset (like Sajid Mir) in the near future if FATF threat of ‘Blacklisting’ does not recede in October 2022? Till such time, Pakistan’s action on these terrorist groups will be viewed with suspicion.
Conversely, India is presented with a challenge to prove to the international community about Pakistan’s insincerity. Additionally, India may face tactical challenges on the ground as Pakistan may activate its other groups which are more ‘Indianised’ as they cannot deploy LeT assets in the near future. Ominous signs of this trend are already visible. Farhatullah Ghori, one of the masterminds of the Akshardham Temple attack in 2002 and 2005 suicide attack on the Special Task Force camp in Begumpet, has suddenly risen from his deep slumber recently to lure new recruits in India through social media. Similar absconding proclaimed offenders such as Abu Hamsa and Abu Bari from Andhra Pradesh, Abu Bakr Siddiqui from Tamil Nadu who are believed to be under the protection of ISI in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, may also become active again. This could pose some serious security challenge for the Indian authorities.
To summarise, Pakistan’s latest clampdown appears to be superficial, only to satisfy international stakeholders such as the US government and the FATF. In judging Pakistan’s action on terrorist groups, its past actions have to be factored in to understand if it is sincere. Pakistan has been using these terrorist groups and likes of Sajid Mir and Muzammil as strategic assets only to make them expendable assets later, when facing reprimands for non-compliance on terrorism issues, which is not uncommon for Pakistan. On the other hand, this presents the Indian policy planners with the raison d’êtat to impress upon the FATF and the international players to retain Pakistan in the ‘Grey List’ till it walks the talk.
- There are conflicting reports about exact date of his death with some stating that he was declared dead in 2021 and 2016. Suhasini Haider, “26/11 planner Sajid Mir wasarrested and convicted within weeks”, The Hindu, 27 June 2022 & Massimo Introvigne, “Sajid Mir: The Strange Case of the Undead Pakistani Terrorist”, Bitterwinter.org, 28 June 2022 available at https://bitterwinter.org/sajid-mir-the-undead-pakistani-terrorist/ (accessed on 29 June 2022)
- Confession statement of David Coleman Headley.
- Indian authorities have designated Muzammil Butt as an individual terrorist under the provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 along with 17 others in 2020.
- Praveen Swami. “Mumbai terror architect crafts infiltration surge”, The Hindu, 02 April 2009, available at https://mealib.nic.in/?1766?000 (accessed on 27 June 2022)
- Bill Roggio, “Lashkar-e-Taiba leader said to be in Pakistani custody directs operations in Kashmir”, Long War Journal, 09 April 2009, available at https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/04/lashkaretaiba_leader.php (accessed on 27 June 2022)