ISLAMABAD - British police have arrested the self-exiled founder of a major Pakistani political party on charges he was intentionally encouraging or assisting criminal offenses in his native country.
Altaf Hussain, who founded the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), was taken into custody Tuesday during a raid on his residence in northwest London. The post-arrest official announcement did not name Hussain, but Pakistani officials in Islamabad confirmed the man in custody was the MQM founder.
“Throughout the investigation, officers have been liaising with Pakistani authorities in relation to our ongoing inquiries,” noted Scotland Yard. It said the detainee was being questioned by counterterrorism officers.
A search was being carried out at the northwest London address and detectives were also searching a separate commercial address in the area, the statement added.
The politician, 66, is a British citizen who has been living in Britain since fleeing a Pakistan government crackdown on his party in 1992.Hussain’s arrest, apparently stemmed from speeches he delivered by telephone to MQM workers in Pakistan in which he allegedly urged them to take the law into their own hands. The investigation is focused on a 2016 speech, according to Scotland Yard.
Just hours after the controversial speech ended, MQM workers took to the streets and carried out violent attacks against public, as well as private, properties in Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province and Pakistan’s commercial center.
MQM claims to be representing the Urdu-speaking community based mostly in urban centers of Sindh. The news of Hussain’s arrest prompted authorities to strengthen security in and around Karachi to discourage his followers from disrupting pubic order.
British investigators visited Pakistan in April to collect evidence and interview key witnesses in connection with Hussain’s controversial speeches, according to the Pakistani English daily DAWN.
Rival political parties, business community and rights activists have long accused Hussain’s MQM of using violent means to retain political dominance in Karachi, the country’s largest city, which generates 70 percent of the federal revenues.
Pakistani authorities said during a 1992 crackdown on MQM they discovered and dismantled camps the party allegedly had set up to torture and murder political opponents and workers critical of party leadership.
It was widely perceived for years that Hussain was controlling Karachi from London and his workers would cripple life in the port city at will, inflicting heavy losses on the national economy.
The August 2016 controversial speech led to rifts in MQM and it has since split into several factions because senior party leaders swiftly distanced themselves from Hussain’s denunciation of the Pakistani state and other demands, including calling for separation of Karachi from Pakistan.