Pakistan takes control of terror-linked charity

January 25, 2009 8:54:57 AM PST
Pakistan formally took control Sunday of the main operational facility of a charity allegedly linked to the Mumbai attacks, underscoring its ongoing effort to ease international pressure over militancy on its soil. The mostly Muslim nation had already closed or taken over several offices, schools and other properties of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity and detained much of its central leadership. On Sunday, a newly appointed government administrator took over the 75-acre compound in the eastern city of Muridke in Punjab province, where the group has conducted and coordinated much of its business.

India says the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba staged the November attacks that killed 164 people in Mumbai. Soon after, the U.N. declared that Jamaat-ud-Dawa - popular with many Pakistanis for its relief work - was a front for Lashkar, prompting Pakistan's crackdown.

Salman Ejaz, a senior official in Punjab province, said all assets and properties of the charity in the province were now under the regional government's control. Most of the assets, offices and operations of the group are in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province.

"The government has appointed an officer as administrator for all the assets," Ejaz said. "The schools and the hospitals will keep on working as they are."

Ejaz said the administrator and other officials would try to gauge and map out the extent of the charity's operations - especially its bank accounts, which Pakistan has ordered frozen.

Asked why it took so long for the government to take over the Muridke site, officials said it was a complicated task.

After the initial crackdown and assessment of the group's operations, "we are going for total regulation under government control," Punjab Home Secretary Nadeem Hasan said. "All things cannot happen in one go."

A spokesman for the charity could not immediately be reached for comment. Initially, there were several relatively small protests over the government's moves against the charity, but that fervor appears to have died down in recent days.

Indian officials also could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday, but the South Asian giant has repeatedly demanded Pakistan go after militant groups, with U.S. officials adding to the pressure. Pakistan has urged India to allow a joint investigation into the Mumbai attacks.

On Sunday, Indian police shot dead two suspected Pakistani militants in a pre-dawn car chase in a suburb near New Delhi, said Amit Kumar, a constable attached to the local superintendent's office. Two AK-47 assault rifles, several rounds of ammunition, five hand grenades and a Pakistani passport and identity cards were recovered from the two men.

Kumar said the investigation was at a preliminary stage and no details had emerged to link the men to a specific terrorist group.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammed Sadiq, declined to comment.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry has said that 71 leaders of Laskhar and the charity had been arrested while another 124 were put under surveillance. Authorities also have said they closed 20 offices, 94 schools, two libraries and six Web sites linked to the charity, while shutting down more than a dozen relief camps, some of which are alleged to be militant training grounds.

Also Sunday, the Pakistani military said security forces had killed eight suspected militants in the Swat Valley, a one-time tourist destination in Pakistan's northwest that residents now say is mostly under insurgent control. The militants were killed during a raid Saturday night, and a large amount of ammunition was seized, the military said in a statement.

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