Charge-sheet has no mention of any ‘international’ actor, though Indian agencies had been blamed by Pak politicians for the attack on Saeed

NEW DELHI: The filing last week of a charge-sheet by the Punjab (Pakistan) Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) in the investigation in the 23 June 2021 blast outside the Lahore-based home of the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, Hafiz Saeed, has named three more individuals as among the accused—Samiul Haq alias Adnan, Aziz alias Ujair Akbar and Muhhamad Naveed Akhtar Khan.

Apart from these three, in January the Anti-Terror Court, Lahore, had sentenced five other suspects—Eid Gul Khan, Peter Paul David, Sajjad Hussain Shah and Ziaullah—to death apart from handing down five years of imprisonment to a woman, identified as Ayesha Biwi for her alleged role in the car suicide bombing in which three people were killed. All these eight, who have been named as an accused in the more than one -year long investigations, are Pakistani nationals.

During the whole investigation, in which several different departments of Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies took part, the name of Hafiz Saeed was never mentioned once in the official communication, with the officials merely referring to him as a “high-value target” possibly to avoid the embarrassment that comes with investigating an attack on one of the world’s most wanted global terrorists.

The charge-sheet, has however, come as an embarrassment for Pakistan President Arif Alvi, then Prime Minister Imran Khan, then information minister Fawad Chaudhry and then Pakistani national security advisor, Moeed Yusuf, who all had blamed Indian government agencies for carrying out the attack on Saeed, ostensibly to avenge the Mumbai attack of November 2008 in which 166 people died.

Yusuf, on 4 July 2021, while addressing a press conference in Islamabad had claimed that, “Through the forensic analysis, electronic equipment, which has been recovered from these terrorists, we have identified the main mastermind and the handlers of this terrorist attack and we have absolutely no doubt or reservation in informing you that the main mastermind belongs to RAW and that mastermind was as Indian citizen.” Yusuf, in fact, merely repeated what the political bosses had stated earlier.

On 28 June, just five days after the attack, the then Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar had claimed that the entire cell involved in the attack that included ten Pakistani male and female citizens had been arrested. The mastermind behind the terror incident has also been identified and that all international and local actors have been identified.

However, the charge-sheet in the case was filed almost 15 months after the attack, with only eight named accused and no mention of any “international” actor, thereby leading to questions being raised about the statement made by Buzdar and similar claims made by others, including Imran Khan. What has also led to raising of probing questions is also the series of conflicting news that were being shared by Pakistani agencies with the Pakistani media over this attack.

Pakistan-based sources aware of the matter told The Sunday Guardian that the Pakistani agencies had declared Samiul Haq as the mastermind of the attack. Haq, along with Ujair, was shown to be arrested by the CTD on 28 April this year from Balochistan. Before the arrest of these two individuals, the same CTD had claimed that Peter Paul David, a Christian by religion, was the mastermind behind the attack.

Similarly, the lone woman who has been accused in the attack, Ayesha Biwi, as per local court records filed by her lawyer, was not even in Lahore when the blast took place. More significantly, the only absconding named accused in the case, Naveed Akhtar—as per an investigation by local journalist Umar Cheema, quoting local CTD officials—had informed the law enforcement agencies of the alleged plot to target Saeed on 7 June itself, more than two weeks before the actual blast took place. Yet, more than one year after the said attack, there is no sign of Akhtar, who was formally and completely debriefed by Pakistani law agencies after he allegedly told them about the plan to place a car bomb at Hafiz Saeed’s house.

The recent charge-sheet filed by the Punjab CTD, too, does not mention any of the disclosure, if any, made by Akhtar during his alleged debriefing in June 2021. According to people who follow the developments in Lahore and keep an eye on the activities of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, the bombing outside Hafiz Saeed’s home was likely a result of either intra-Lashkar rivalry or a message meant for Saeed by the Pakistan deep state to tell him that he was not as indispensable as he thinks he is.

Functionaries of different armed groups active in Pakistan told The Sunday Guardian that their targets have always been the security forces and not any leader of a similar armed group which Saeed is. “Any of the interested ‘outside’ Pakistan government agencies, if it wants to take out someone like Saeed, can do it very easily, especially with the kind of technological assets that are available now. The kind of activities we saw in Lahore on 23 June 2021 was likely a message for Saeed from its official mentors. Saeed has many enemies inside Pakistan,” a government official told The Sunday Guardian.

About 15 kg of explosives was planted in a Black Toyota Corolla car bearing registration number LEB-9928 2010 model that had been snatched by three criminals in Gujranwala in November 2010 and had changed ownership multiple times before it was parked near the residence of Hafiz Saeed in Board of Revenue Housing Society, Johar Town. Following the blast, his residence was unscathed (which many believe was by choice), but many other houses and shops falling in 100 square feet radius were damaged, apart from the three dead. The car was parked at 10.30 am and it exploded at 11 am.