by Chidanand Rajghatta

WASHINGTON: US authorities on Thursday arrested a Pakistani-American on arrival in the US from Pakistan for ties to the proscribed Pakistani terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed, hours after Washington led the way at the United Nations in designating its leader Masood Azhar as “global terrorist.” 

Waqar Ul-Hassan, who emigrated from Pakistan in 1999 and held dual American and Pakistani citizenship, was held at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina after a nearly two-year stay in Pakistan, authorities said. A criminal complaint filed by the US Attorney’s Office in Virginia, where Hassan resided, said he was under investigation for communicating with terrorist groups, including Jaish and ISIS, and lying about it to FBI.

Court documents cited in the local media said he travelled to Pakistan in 2016 after several interviews with the FBI, during which he initially denied contact with terror groups, and returned to the US only this week after an extended stay in Pakistan. In later interviews though, he “admitted to extensive contacts with a JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed) recruiter, who he identified by name.” He also admitted, “he travelled to and stayed with JeM extremists for two or three days in 2014, travelled in Pakistan in 2013 and 2014 to collect money and food for JeM extremists, and passed out recruiting newspapers for JeM in Pakistan in 2014.” 

It was not clear why he was let go by authorities after those interviews and why he was arrested on his return, but US law enforcement agencies sometimes use operatives as double agents to penetrate terrorist and drug rings, as they did in the case of David Headley aka Daood Gilani, another Pakistani-American who played a key role in the Mumbai terror attacks. 

Hassan is also said to have attempted to send money to ISIS, which claimed the recent serial suicide bombing in Sri Lanka, saying he was curious about its approach to jihad. After initial denials, he signed a statement acknowledging he attempted to send money to ISIS "because he was angry about what was happening to Muslims around the world," but said he ultimately did not because he didn't have a way to get it there, according to a federal complaint. 

In one of his statements, Hassan speaks about his ties with Jaish, saying the stayed with them in 2014 during which time they told him about an attack on Indian soldiers and showed him videos of the attack. “I also passed out a newspaper that Jaish Mujahiden uses to recruit people and collect money. I lied (to FBI) because I was scared of getting in trouble because I participated in collecting money, food and passing out the newspaper for Jaish Mujahadin which is a terrorist group, but they also help the poor in Pakistan,” he says. 

The Pakistani-American’s arrest comes amid deep scepticism in the US administration and among analysts about Islamabad’s claim that it is changing course away from its history of patronising terrorism and providing an ecosystem for it to flourish, a strategy in which men like Hassan are cannon-fodder. Some experts feel pledges to this effect by the country’s new prime minister Imran Khan are sketchy, too little, too late, and the hard line military has a stranglehold on the country’s foreign policy that sees India as an existential threat. 

"The extremism is growing from a societal perspective. It's growing within the military. So, it is not impossible, not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, but five years from now, 10 years from now that you could have a colour revolution, Arab spring style movement in the streets of Islamabad that ends up with an extremist government there with nuclear weapons. That's what so scary," Micheal Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA who was tasked with dealing with the Pakistan problem by the Obama administration said in a recent “Tea Leaves” podcast form the Asia Group.

"They still see India and, I think, for foreseeable future, will see India as an existential threat to the state of Pakistan. It's not, it's just not. India stopped focusing on Pakistan a long time ago. They're focusing on their economic future," Morell said, warning, "What they don't realise is that it's impossible to keep those terrorist groups under control. And that eventually comes back to bite you." 

“You know, I believe that Pakistan, at the end of the day, maybe the most dangerous country in the world," he added.