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Nitesh Kumar Sahoo

Lahore: In a significant development, an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for banned Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar on the charges of terror financing. Issuance of arrest warrant is the first small step against the global terrorist.

The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) Gujranwala issued the warrant during a hearing in a terror financing case instituted by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of Punjab police against some members of the JeM.

"ATC Gujranwala judge Natasha Naseem Supra issued an arrest warrant for Masood Azhar and directed the CTD to arrest him and present him in the court. The CTD told the judge the JeM chief was involved in terror financing and selling jihadi literature," an official told PTI.

He said the ATC judge issued the arrest warrant for Azhar on the request of a CTD inspector.

Earlier, Islamabad claimed Masood Azhar's disappearance. Pakistani diplomats also told the global anti-terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that Pakistan couldn't take action against Masood Azhar as he was missing. Indian officials had then rebutted Pakistan, pointing that he was still holed up in his bomb-proof house behind the terror group’s Bahawalpur headquarters at Markaz-e-Usman-o-Ali, Railway Link Road, in Pakistan.

Azhar is believed to be hiding in a "safe place" in his native town Bahawalpur.

Following the Palwama terror attack in February 2019 in India, Pakistan's Punjab province police had launched a crackdown on terrorism financing and in this connection arrested six activists of the JeM in Gujranwala, some 130kms from Lahore.

The CTD said its teams raided the whereabouts of the JeM's "safe house" and arrested its members -- Muhammad Afzal, Muhammad Amir, Allah Ditta, Muhammad Iftikhar, Muhammad Ajmal and Muhammad Bilal Makki -- and recovered lakhs of rupees from their possession.

"The suspects were collecting funds to finance activities of JeM. The chargesheet against them has been submitted to the Anti-Terrorism Court Gujranwala and they are being interrogated, the CTD said.

Following immense international pressure after the Pulwama attack, the Pakistan government had arrested over 100 members of banned militant outfits including the JeM chief's son and brother. The government also took control of the JeM, Mumbai terror attack mastermind Haifiz Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawah (uD) and Falahai Insaniat Foundation (FIF) properties including seminaries and mosques across the country.

JeM had claimed responsibility for the Pulwama terror attack that killed 40 CRPF soldiers.

Pakistan's Punjab government claimed to have taken over the administrative control of the JeM headquarters - comprising Madressatul Sabir and Jama-e-Masjid Subhanallah in Bahawalpur.

According to the government, some 600 students are studying there and none of them is associated with any banned outfit or involved in any terror activity.

In May 2019, the United Nations designated Azhar a "global terrorist" after China lifted its hold on a proposal to blacklist the Pakistan-based JeM chief, a decade after New Delhi approached the world body for the first time on the issue.

The UN committee listed Azhar on May 1, 2019 as being associated with Al-Qaeda for "participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf of, or in support of", "supplying, selling or transferring arms and related material to", "recruiting for", "otherwise supporting acts or activities of", and "other acts or activities indicating association with" the JeM.

Azhar is a fugitive released by India in exchange of passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane IC-814 in 1999.

After his release in 1999, Azhar formed the Jaish-e-Mohammed and scripted many audacious terror strikes in India.

On February 26, 2019 India had launched air strikes on what was said to be JeM's biggest training camp in Pakistan's Balakot.

The global terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is instrumental in pushing Pakistan to take measures against terrorists roaming freely in Pakistan and using its territory to carry out attacks in India and elsewhere.

The FATF kept Islamabad in its ‘grey list’ that continued to make it difficult for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to get financial aid from international lending agencies such as the IMF. As he faces the most serious challenge from a combined opposition that has been mobilising public opinion against him, Pakistan watchers say that Imran Khan’s best chance to hold power is to get the economy back on rails to ensure that the opposition campaign doesn’t find traction with the people. By most accounts, it isn’t easy.

It is in this context that Indian officials believe that pressure is mounting to take steps against Dawood Ibrahim, once the Mumbai don who crossed the line when he plotted the March 1993 bombings in the city before fleeing the country.

Dawood Ibrahim has been living in Karachi from where he has controlled South Asia’s biggest crime syndicate for most of the last two decades. Islamabad has all along claimed that Dawood Ibrahim was not in Pakistan despite documentary evidence produced by India that places him in Karachi.

Indian officials said action against Dawood Ibrahim would be the acid test for the Imran Khan government’s efforts to project that it was serious on acting against terrorism. Dawood Ibrahim is well-entrenched in Pakistan’s power circuit. In 2005, Dawood - also designated as a global terrorist by the UNSC and US - married off his daughter Mahrukh to Junaid Miandad, son of former Pakistani cricketer Javed Miandad.

(With Inputs From M Zulqernain/PTI)

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