LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - The United States has added the founder of a banned Pakistani militant group to its list of global terrorists, blaming him for the deaths of hundreds of Pakistanis.
Malik Ishaq is the founding member and leader of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ), a banned Sunni Muslim organization dedicated to killing or driving out Pakistan’s minority Shi‘ite Muslims.
“In 1997, Malik Ishaq admitted his involvement in terrorist activity that resulted in the deaths of over 100 Pakistanis,” the U.S. State Department said on its Web site in a statement posted on Thursday.
It noted he had also been arrested in connection with twin bombings in the western Pakistani city of Quetta that killed about 200 people last year.
“LJ specializes in armed attacks and bombings and has admitted responsibility for numerous killings of Shi‘ite religious and civil society leaders in Pakistan,” the State Department said.
The designations means anyone who supports Ishaq or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi could have their assets frozen by the U.S. government.
Ishaq’s deputy and spokesman said the decision to list Ishaq was the result of a conspiracy between the United States and Iran, a majority Shi‘ite country.
About 20 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people are Shi‘ite.
“The U.S. administration took the step on Iran’s instigation,” said the spokesman, Hafiz Ghulam Rasool Shah.
“Malik Ishaq was acquitted by Pakistan’s courts and he is leading the life of an honorable and peaceful citizen of Pakistan.”
Ishaq has spent 14 years in jail on dozens of murder or terrorism charges and was in prison when some of the attacks happened. He was eventually acquitted.
“The U.S. made the decision in the wake of attack on Sri Lankan Cricket team in Lahore. When the incident occurred, Ishaq was in Multan district jail,” he said, referring to a deadly 2009 attack on the sports team.
“Right now, Ishaq is in jail on the charges of making hatred speeches only.”
In 2012, Ishaq told Reuters that Shi‘ites were the “greatest infidels on earth” and that Pakistan should declare them non-Muslims.
“Whoever insults the companions of the Holy Prophet should be given a death sentence,” Ishaq declared.
Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Robert Birsel