ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - One of the men sanctioned by the United States for supporting “the most dangerous terrorist organizations” in Afghanistan and Pakistan denied on Friday he was a Taliban financier.
Hajji Malik Noorzai told Reuters he was a legitimate Pakistani businessman trying to turn a profit in countries as far apart as Afghanistan and Uganda, and someone dedicated to teaching children about the peaceful religion of Islam.
The Treasury Department accuses him and his brother Faizullah of raising millions of dollars for the Taliban, running an extremist religious seminary and storing vehicles for suicide bombings.
On Thursday, it announced sanctions on them and three other individuals, including Abdul Aziz Abbasin, described as a “key commander” for the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network.
The move came amid heightened American concerns over the activities of the Haqqani group, which Washington blames for a September 13 attack on its embassy in Kabul.
The United States alleges that Pakistan’s military intelligence agency supports the Haqqanis. Noorzai, it says, is an example of how Afghan militant groups have also managed to secure critical support from businessmen in the region.
Noorzai said he was dumbfounded when he heard the news of American punitive measures against him on television.
“We have no connection with the Taliban, no connection with the Haqqanis. We have no need for such contacts, nor do we have the kind of money that can help run such groups,” Noorzai said in a telephone interview.
“I worked very hard to set up my business, God is my witness. I didn’t give any money to anyone.”
Noorzai says he is an importer and exporter of cars and machinery from the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya and Uganda.
He believes he is the victim of a malicious plot by competitors to ruin his reputation.
“We have business rivals, clan rivals. If someone in our area starts doing badly in business, they will try to malign others. I don’t know who spread this rumor that we are connected with these groups,” he said.
As a result of the action, U.S. companies and individuals are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the targeted individuals and any assets they hold under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, Treasury said.
Noorzai is based in Pakistan’s biggest city and commercial hub Karachi, where security officials say militants raise revenues for their operations through extortion and kidnappings for ransom.
The United States says he has been breeding generations of Taliban fighters.
“As of 2009, he had served for 16 years as the chief caretaker of a madrassa (religious school) near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border that was used by the Taliban to indoctrinate and train recruits,” said a Treasury Department press release.
Noorzai says he is just carrying out religious obligations.
“Yes, we do have a madrassa, it is also a private school. There is no child there above the age of 10. This is our country, a Muslim country, we are Muslims,” he said.
“It is our duty to provide religious education to our children.”
Additional reporting by Saeed Ali Achakzai in Chaman; Writing by Michael Georgy