ISLAMABAD - The man accused of masterminding a deadly attack on Mumbai, India, more than a decade ago has been convicted in neighboring Pakistan in two terrorism-related cases.
Radical cleric Hafiz Saeed was present in the courtroom in Pakistan's second largest city, Lahore, when he was found guilty of being a member of a banned group and collecting money to fund terrorist activities.
He received two five-and-a-half-year prison sentences that will run concurrently.
Saeed became a known figure worldwide when the group he headed at the time, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, or LeT, was blamed for a series of coordinated attacks lasting almost four days in Mumbai, India's financial capital, in November 2008. The attacks killed 166 people, among them, Americans, Canadians and Europeans.
Soon after, the United Nations Security Council sanctioned both him and LeT. He was also named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the United States, which put out a $10 million bounty for his arrest in 2012. Saeed is also wanted by India for his alleged role in the attack.
Pakistan banned LeT but it soon emerged under the name Jamaat ud Dawa, or JuD, which was also subsequently banned by the U.N. and the U.S.
Still, in his homeland of Pakistan, Saeed mostly roamed free, often making public appearances and speeches to thousands of his devout followers denouncing India and the U.S.
His organization openly collected donations, carried out charitable activities, ran religious schools known as madrassas, and health care centers, provided relief activities in natural disasters, and even fielded candidates in the last general elections under a new name called the Milli Muslim League. Saeed went city to city, including the capital, Islamabad, campaigning for his party's nominees in well-organized campaign rallies attended by tens of thousands. His face was plastered on large campaign banners all over the country.
It was widely believed that Saeed enjoyed the support of Pakistan's powerful military and its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, that used him for anti-India activities, particularly in Kashmir, a disputed territory that both India and Pakistan claim.
Saeed was detained or placed under house arrest multiple times, mostly under international pressure, only to be released later under court orders that cited lack of evidence.
After one such release in 2017, the U.S. issued a strongly worded warning to Pakistan.
"If Pakistan does not take action to lawfully detain Saeed and charge him for his crimes, its inaction will have repercussions for bilateral relations and for Pakistan's global reputation," a statement said.
The cleric was arrested last July. The move led to his first conviction on any charges since the Mumbai attacks.
Saeed denies any ties to militancy and describes accusations against him as Indian and American propaganda. He says JuD provides humanitarian relief to people in need.
Saeed's lawyer said he will appeal the court's decision.
The decision comes days ahead of a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force in Paris that will review Pakistan's record on countering terrorism financing and money laundering. Pakistan is currently on an FATF watch list, also known as the "grey list," which makes financial transactions with the outside world more expensive, as they have to go through extra checks.