Pakistani locals react negatively to Mumbai-attack arrests

Pakistani security services have arrested four men belonging to the Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity which New Delhi believes is the political wing of the banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Locals do not believe they were involved in the Mumbai attacks.


AFP - The anti-militant operation Pakistan launched in the wake of the Mumbai attacks has thrown the global spotlight on a group known largely for its relief work after the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa operates hospitals, schools and relief centres across Pakistan, but is widely viewed as the political arm of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the outlawed Kashmiri militant group India blames for the Mumbai attacks.

The United States lists Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a terrorist organisation due to its links with LeT and on Sunday Pakistan, under intense pressure from Washington, raided a camp operated by the group, arresting 15 people.

The charity was set up by LeT founder Hafiz Saeed, a fiery Islamist reported to be on a list of people India has demanded Pakistan hand over in the wake of the bombings, and who has twice been placed under house arrest.

It operates out of a sprawling headquarters in Muridke, near the eastern city of Lahore, originally set up by the militant group as a training camp.

Three days after the raid on the camp in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir where LeT is active, there had been no move on the huge complex, which now contains a hospital, a mosque and schools.

An AFP reporter who travelled to the complex on Wednesday saw no police outside the heavily-guarded site, where the atmosphere was calm as workers sorted through donations for this week's Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha.

Inside the complex, manager Abu Ahsan said the group had no links with terrorism and that workers at the site had spent the past few days slaughtering animals for Eid and donating the meat to earthquake victims.

"We are engaged in relief work, we provided help to thousands of affected people in the quake-hit areas of Pakistan," he told AFP.

"We condemn terrorism, it is against Islam, and we have nothing to do with Lashkar-e-Taiba."

Jamaat-ud-Dawa was among the first to deliver aid to the victims of the huge 2005 earthquake in Kashmir and was also active in relief work after October's quake in Baluchistan, which left thousands homeless.

The head of the group in Pakistani Kashmir, where Sunday's raid took place,  said Wednesday the targeted camp housed a religious school and denied allegations it was also used as a terrorist training camp.

"Training camps are not located within the city limits," Abdul Aziz Alvi told journalists in the state capital Muzaffarabad, near the site of the camp.

"Those arrested were teachers, but we don't know how many have been taken away," he added.

Alvi, who wore a beard and traditional shalwar kameez, said the site had now been taken over by Pakistan security forces and that the crackdown was continuing, although he could not say how many had been arrested.

Reports in Pakistan say the military has sealed off several more Jamaat-ud-Dawa offices in the country's North West Frontier Province as part of its crackdown on militant groups in the country.

India says the charity is a front for LeT, which it also accuses over an attack on its parliament in 2001 that pushed the two neighbours to the brink of war, and has demanded Pakistan outlaw the organisation.

But Pakistan has stressed it will act in its own interests, and will not bow to pressure from its historic rival, India.

"Whatever action we take will be in the interest of the country and its people," Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said this week.

"We are not doing anything under Indian pressure."

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