The U.S. State Department on Monday imposed sanctions on Pakistani political party the Milli Muslim League (MML), designating it and its leadership as "terrorists."
The U.S. added the Milli Muslim League and Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir as aliases of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and specifically named seven MML leaders as terrorists, according to a statement Monday.
"Today's amendments take aim at Lashkar-e-Taiba's efforts to circumvent sanctions and deceive the public about its true character," said Nathan Sales, the State Department's Counterterrorism Coordinator. "Make no mistake: Whatever LeT chooses to call itself, it remains a violent terrorist group."
Milli Muslim League and Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir were created last year and are linked to Hafiz Saeed, a Pakistan-based U.S.-designated global terrorist and leader of LeT.
Saeed is believed to be the mastermind of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai that killed more than 160 people, including six Americans.
Saeed was added to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1267 sanctions list in December 2008.
In 2012, the United States declared him a "global terrorist" and has offered a bounty of $10 million for information that would lead to his arrest.
In January 2017, Saeed established Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir after the Pakistani government banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the front organization for LeT.
In August 2017, the Islamist cleric formed a political party and named it Milli Muslim League in an effort to find a place for JuD in Pakistan's political arena.
LeT's leader has been trying to create front organizations for some time to dodge growing pressure on the terror group in Pakistan.
Following the State Department's announcement, the U.S. Treasury Department also designated seven members of the MML central leadership body for acting on behalf of LeT.
The sanctions imposed by the Treasury's Assets Control Office bar U.S. companies and U.S nationals from conducting any business with the seven individuals. The designation also blocks their financial accounts and assets.
MML political activity
MML came into prominence after its supported candidates, who contested by-elections in 2017, were able to secure considerable votes. The party's relatively good performance attracted the attention of other established political parties and the country's electoral body.
In October 2017, Pakistan's Election Commission barred MML from registering as a political party after Pakistan's Interior Ministry requested that MML not be allowed to participate in the elections. The ministry accused MML of serving as a front organization for JuD.
The decision, however, was contested by MML in a federal court, which last month asked the election commission to review it.
MML has several offices throughout the country and has an active presence on the internet. The party has launched a website and its social media team is actively spreading the party's messages through its Facebook and Twitter pages.
Saeed has been pushing back against growing pressure on these organizations. Monday's State Department designation comes on the heels of a court order in Lahore, directing the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan to submit a response on why they have barred JuD's humanitarian operations across the country.
In January, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) issued a directive banning individuals and groups placed on terror watch lists by Pakistan and the U.N. Security Council from collecting funds. The directive also banned those groups from arranging any political, social, welfare or religious events in the country. The directive included Saeed's JuD.
The court instructed the federal government to submit a response explaining its reasoning for the decision by April 27.