Oh he suddenly isn't dead/untraceable anymore.....
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Sources: Sajid Mir in custody as Islamabad aims to exit terror finance watchlist
NEW YORK -- Pakistan has arrested the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks after years of denying his presence and even claiming he was dead, Nikkei Asia has learned.
The man, Sajid Mir, is on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists
, with a $5 million reward on his head. He has been sought by both the U.S. and India for over a decade. Mir is connected to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a United Nations-designated terrorist organization believed to have been behind the November 2008 siege, when a team of 10 men carried out coordinated attacks on multiple targets. About 170 people were killed -- mainly Indians, alongside six Americans as well as visitors from Japan and elsewhere.
The case appears to have been brought to a head by Pakistan's desire to extricate itself from the Financial Action Task Force's international terror-financing watchlist. Hammad Azhar, Pakistan's former finance minister in the recently ousted government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, and the man in charge of negotiations with the multilateral watchdog for the past three years, confirmed to Nikkei that Pakistan took measures against Mir and other designated terrorists that were "satisfactory" to the FATF. The task force has been keeping Pakistan on its Grey List, used to monitor and isolate noncompliant countries.
Likewise, an FBI official, speaking to Nikkei Asia on the condition of anonymity, said that Mir is "alive, in custody and has been sentenced" in Pakistan.
Another former Pakistani official who is aware of the case said the "Pakistanis have acknowledged to both India and to America that a man called Sajid Mir, who was wanted in connection with the Mumbai attacks, and whom Pakistan had long said was either dead or not locatable ... they have actually found where he is."
According to the FBI, he "allegedly served as the chief planner of the [Mumbai] attacks, directing preparations and reconnaissance, and was one of the Pakistan-based controllers during the attacks." Rumors of Mir's arrest have circulated online but were never verified.
Additionally, the FBI claims Mir conspired to commit a terrorist attack against a newspaper and its employees in Denmark between 2008 and 2009. He was indicted on terrorism charges by a Chicago court in 2011. In December 2021, the U.S. State Department assessed in its Country Reports on Terrorism that "Mumbai attack 'project manager' Sajid Mir... [was] believed to remain free in Pakistan."
Pakistan's response to the Mumbai attacks has been a series of about-turns. In the immediate aftermath, Islamabad rejected all allegations of involvement made by New Delhi. Over several years, investigations, arrests, testimonies and convictions in both India and the U.S. forced Pakistan to take action against Laskhar-e-Taiba, many of whose leaders and cadres are believed to reside in Pakistan. Mir is associated with the organization, according to the FBI.
Still, Pakistan denied Mir's presence in the country, and according to several serving and retired officials, consistently claimed that he was either dead or could not be traced.
Pakistan has still not officially acknowledged Mir's arrest. The deputy foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, told Nikkei Asia that she would not comment on this particular case. Requests for comment to the Pakistani Embassy in Washington went unanswered. There was no response from the Pakistani military spokesperson. Senior police officials and investigators from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Pakistan's version of the FBI, also did not comment on the arrest, but did not deny it.
Pakistan is thought to have changed its position as it sought removal from the FATF anti-terror financing Grey List
and after being confronted with actionable intelligence about Mir -- a voice signature gained through monitoring and analysis of the Pakistani communications system. This, along with other details, was shared with Pakistan by an FATF member state, according to a source familiar with the proceedings.
While countries on the FATF Grey List are not sanctioned, it is a step short of the Black List, which does impose penalties, locking countries out of the global financial system. Besides Pakistan, there are 23 countries on the Grey List and two -- Iran and North Korea -- on the Black List.
By finally arresting and prosecuting Mir, as well as other designated terrorists, Pakistan has set itself on a path to leaving the Grey List, while it aims for a broader reset of ties with Washington and New Delhi.
Last week, the FATF announced that Pakistan had fulfilled all its requisite "action items" but would be taken off the watchlist only after a forensic "on site" assessment by members' representatives. Without naming Mir or any other individuals, FATF President Marcus Pleyer told journalists that Pakistan "has demonstrated that it is now pursuing terrorist financing investigations and prosecutions against senior leaders of U.N.-designated terrorist groups."
He also said that "the reforms implemented by Pakistan are good for the stability and security of the country and the region."
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's former envoy to Washington and currently the director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington, observed: "It appears that Pakistan has now fully complied with FATF's action items. That probably means that some anti-India jihadi leaders whom Pakistan had previously denied knowledge of have now been located and detained."
Haqqani, who for years has pushed for Pakistan to reform its approach to countering terrorism and extremism, added, "After this, there is no reason why Pakistan should stay on the Grey List."
Azhar, the former finance minister, said that by last year Pakistan had fulfilled the necessary action items and that the majority of the FATF's 39 members voted to take it off the watchlist at an October 2021 plenary. However, an official familiar with the consensus-based proceedings said India and some other members voted to keep Pakistan on the list.
By the next round of FATF meetings, in April 2022, Pakistan had taken further measures to satisfy the organization's members, including additional details about locating and prosecuting Mir and other designated terrorists, according to Azhar. He said Pakistan provided them "more information about tracking him and prosecuting him, along with other U.N.-designated terrorists ... proving that his case had been treated as per law."
Azhar did not comment on Pakistan's previous stance, that Mir was dead or untraceable. However, he did say the information about Mir and other terrorist prosecutions that was demanded by the hitherto dissatisfied FATF members was "provided transparently and to their satisfaction."
The FBI official who confirmed that Mir was in custody told Nikkei that "extradition is next." But Mir's fate is unclear due to the opacity of the Pakistani justice system and its arrangements with its U.S. counterpart.
Mir was originally indicted for terrorism in an American court, not a Pakistani one. However, during the 2000s, around the peak of the "War on Terror," Pakistan arrested and extradited hundreds of suspected terrorists affiliated with outfits such as Al Qaeda to the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay and other detention facilities, without due process or a formal extradition treaty between the governments. Some of these people were eventually exonerated.
Questions remain over how Mir was tried, or where he would serve his sentence.
Pakistani law allows for preventive detention, permits the death penalty for terrorism offenses and authorizes specialized courts to try terrorism cases, according to the State Department. "A vague and broad definition of terrorism" under Pakistan's Anti-Terrorism Act "essentially provides impunity to police for acts of brutality, custodial torture, false encounters, and unlawful detention," according to the Justice Project Pakistan, a legal rights watchdog.
As for the FATF, it does not publish the submissions and other documentation filed by countries, nor the minutes of plenary meetings. The organization did not respond to Nikkei Asia's requests for comment.
All of this is part of an effort by Islamabad to patch things up with the U.S. and possibly India -- with a focus on stopping the downward spiral of the Pakistani economy. The country wants regional trade, American investment and Washington's support in getting loans from the International Monetary Fund, without which, experts say, a default is likely. A reset of long-chilly ties with the U.S. has begun, but the relationship is far from normal.
"Mistrust often comes quickly but goes away slowly," said Haqqani, the former ambassador. "Pakistani and American diplomats have their work cut out for reestablishing a higher level of trust than existed in the recent past."