Charity Funds Said to Provide Clues to Alleged Terrorist Plot
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
LONDON, Aug. 14 -- The transfer of millions of dollars from Britain to a Pakistani charity working on earthquake relief last year helped investigators uncover the alleged plot to blow up airplanes bound for the United States, according to two senior Pakistani intelligence officials.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said that a large portion of the money sent from Britain to the charity was siphoned off and ultimately used to prepare for the attacks. The officials said that about 5 million British pounds, or $10 million, was transferred to Pakistan, but that less than half was used for relief operations after the earthquake last October, which killed tens of thousands of people.
"British intelligence smelled a foul play the moment the transfer was made in December last year," said one of the senior intelligence officials, who is directly involved in the investigation.
"The innocent Pakistani souls in Britain who contributed so generously for the victims of the earthquake didn't know that their money would actually be used for one of the biggest terrorist operations," the other Pakistani official said.
British police are holding 23 suspects, most of them London-based Muslim men in their twenties. Intelligence officials have said that at least 17 of the suspects have family ties to Pakistan.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard declined to comment on the money transfer.
The Pakistani officials did not identify the charity in question. The New York Times reported Monday that investigators are focusing on Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a Pakistani charity that is a front for Lashkar-i-Taiba, an Islamic militant group.
In 2002, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, banned Lashkar-i-Taiba, but the group renamed itself Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a way to evade sanctions, according to the State Department. Lashkar-i-Taiba is one of the largest and best-trained groups fighting Indian forces in the disputed Himalayan province of Kashmir. Lashkar-i-Taiba has been linked by U.S. authorities to al-Qaeda.
According to Michael Clarke, a terrorism specialist at King's College London, Jamaat-ud-Dawa played a considerable role in helping the residents of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir and northern Pakistan recover from the earthquake, which struck a region that is home to several camps and bases belonging to militant Kashmiri groups and other radical organizations linked to al-Qaeda.
The chaos after the quake allowed the Pakistani government to develop intelligence agents in the area, learn more about the scope of the groups and try to undermine their support, he said. The groups used the quake to transfer money in and out of the affected region in an attempt to increase their influence, Clarke said.
"Within a week, it was being said this actually is quite an opportunity for both the government and jihadis to reposition themselves in a lot of ways," Clarke said.
Jamaat-ud-Dawa "certainly does legitimate charity work, but there's a lot of suspicion that surrounds it because of where it operates," he said.