Probe into Kashmiri separatist''s links
14 June 2002
LONDON: Britain''s charity commission has ordered an investigation into the alleged terrorist links of Mercy Universal, a charity institution, which the Indian Government claims is used by a London-based Kashmiri separatist, Ayub Thakur, to fund militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. This follows Indian pressure on the British Government to crack down on his activities under its new stringent anti-terrorism law. But Dr. Thakur insisted today that all the money collected by the institution was used for ''charitable purposes'' in Kashmir, Gujarat and Orissa. ''Charity means charity and has nothing to do with militancy. These allegations are intended to harass me and force me to backtrack on my position on Kashmir,'' he told The Hindu, denying links with terrorists. The allegations, he said, had been raked up to ''discredit'' his campaign for self-determination in the run-up to the Assembly elections. A spokesperson of the commission confirmed that it had received allegations about Mercy Universal''s involvement in funding terrorism and ''an immediate inquiry'' was underway. The inquiry was ordered on June 12, two weeks after the issue was raised by Indian authorities with the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, during his visit to New Delhi. The pressure on Britain to act grew following the arrest of Imtiaz Ahmed Bazaz, a businessman and film-maker who is alleged to have told the police that he had helped Dr. Thakur to provide funds for the militants. The money, it is alleged, was sent from Mercy Universal''s account in London to a Delhi bank account of one of Bazaz''s companies. India is reported to have conveyed its concern that large sums continue to pour into militants'' coffers from their British supporters through ostensibly charitable organisations. The Home Office here declined to comment on a newspaper report that it was ''examining'' Dr. Thakur''s asylum status, but one source said: ''We are aware of the individual and the allegations against him.'' Dr. Thakur, who is alleged to have close links with the ISI through his World Kashmir Freedom Movement, has been living in Britain since 1986 and openly espousing Kashmiri separatism. The Foreign Office said it was not its policy to comment on specific cases but British and India had ''good cooperation'' on countering terrorism and would welcome any information. Dr. Thakur said he had ''nothing to hide'' and would ''welcome'' any investigation into the institution. He denied meeting Bazaz, but acknowledged that his name was recommended ''to me by charities with whom we work in Kashmir.'' He declined to disclose their names saying it would endanger their security. The Indian Government, he said, had been pursuing him since 1974 when as a student leader at the University of Kashmir he was involved in the political struggle for self- determination for Kashmiris. He said there was no reason why the British Government should take action against him. He had been meeting British MPs who would not have talked to him if he were a terrorist.