US adds Lashkar-e-Taiba student wing to terrorism list

The banner for Al-Muhammadia Students’ Facebook page includes an image of Pakistani soldiers trampling an Indian flag.

The US government has added the Al-Muhammadia Students (AMS) organization, or “the student wing” of the Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT or Army of the Pure), to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Additionally, the US added LeT leaders Muhammad Sarwar and Shahid Mahmood to the list of global terrorists. The designations highlight LeT’s role in international terrorism and its adeptness in using front organizations to skirt international sanctions.

“Founded in 2009, AMS is a subsidiary of LeT and has worked with LeT senior leaders to organize recruiting courses and other activities for youth,” the State Department designation noted.

State also noted that LeT has “repeatedly changed its name and created front organizations in an effort to avoid sanctions” since the US first added it to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 2001.

LeT has mastered the art of using charitable groups to fundraise as well as promote its message and recruit. Since 2010, the US has identified the following groups as LeT fronts: Falah-i Insaniat Foundation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Al-Anfal Trust, Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, and Tehrik-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awwal. [See LWJ reports, US designates Lashkar-e-Taiba’s charitable front as terror group, and US adds 2 Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders, several aliases to terrorism list.]

AMS is active on social media and uses Twitter and Facebook to fundraise and promote their message. AMS also holds rallies and seminars throughout Pakistan.

A prime message of AMS is opposition to India, Pakistan’s neighbor and rival. The banner for AMS’ social media outreach includes images of Pakistani troops storming a city and trampling on an Indian flag.

An advertisement for Al-Muhammadia Students’ “Unite and Defend Pakistan” seminar in March 2016 features Muhammad Masood, the brother of Lashkar-e-Taibe emir Hafiz Saeed.

While AMS is careful not to advertise its connection to LeT on social media platforms, evidence of an association can be seen. For instance, one of the speakers at its “Unite and Defend Pakistan” rallies included Muhammad Masood, the brother of Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Saeed. Masood previously was the spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of New England’s Sharon mosque, and was deported from the US after pleading guilty of five charges of immigration fraud.

Muhammad Sarwar and Shahid Mahmood

In addition to State’s designation of AMS, the Treasury Department added LeT leaders Muhammad Sarwar and Shahid Mahmood to the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

“Sarwar has been a senior LeT official in Lahore for over ten years and has held various leadership roles in the group, including his current position as LeT’s emir for Lahore,” Treasury noted in its designation. “As the LeT emir of Lahore, Sarwar maintains relationships with LeT’s most senior leaders.”

Sarwar fundraises for LeT and “was one of two officials who headed LeT’s finance wing in Lahore.”

Mahmood “has been a longstanding senior LeT member based in Karachi,” according to Treasury. He “served as the vice chairman of Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation,” which the US government identified as an LeT front organization in 2010.

Additionally, Mahmood has been active in LeT’s overseas operations. Mahmood has used his job at the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation to travel to Burma, Turkey, and Syria to recruit and establish FiF branches in those countries.

As a member of LeT’s “overseas operations team,” which is led by Sajjid Mir. Treasury stated that Mahmood “was instructed to forge covert links with Islamic organizations in Bangladesh and Burma, and as of late 2011, Mahmood claimed that LeT’s primary concern should be attacking India and America.” He also operated in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh.

LeT: An established jihadist group

LeT was founded in 1987 by its leader, Hafiz Saeed, along with Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam, the godfather of international jihad. Bin Laden helped LeT establish training camps in Afghanistan’s provinces of Kunar and Paktia, where it continues to operates to this day. LeT shares al Qaeda’s goal of establishing an Islamic state in South Asia and beyond.

LeT operates openly inside Pakistan and has offices throughout the country. Markaz-e-Taiba, its headquarters in Muridke near Lahore, is a sprawling complex used to indoctrinate future jihadists before they are sent off for military training. The provincial government of Punjab has financed Markaz-e-Taiba in the past.

This terrorist infrastructure has been used to conduct egregious terrorist attacks in India and Afghanistan. The most prominent attack took place in Mumbai, India, when a suicide assault team fanned out across the city and targeted multiple locations, including a theater, a train station, hotels as well as a Jewish center and killed 164 people. The attack lasted for three days. Indian intelligence traced phone calls back to handlers in Pakistan as the assault was ongoing. The handlers directed its fighters to execute non-Muslims, often brutally, and laughed when their instructions were carried out. After the attack, Interpol issued arrest warrants for two serving senior Pakistani army officers and a retired major.

Despite LeT’s overt ties to al Qaeda and its campaign of terror in India and Afghanistan, the Pakistani government refuses to crack down on this group. The organization’s complexes in Muridke and throughout the country remain open and its leaders operate unfettered. Hafiz Saeed is feted by Pakistani officials, who refuse to hold him and other LeT leaders accountable for their actions. Not a single member of LeT who has been implicated in the Mumbai attack has been prosecuted.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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