An influential Pakistani Muslim group that supported the assassination of a prominent liberal politician received money from the United States, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
The Sunni Ittehad Council that describes itself as an alliance of religious and political groups against "extreme Islamist ideology," received $36,607 from the U.S. government in 2009. The finding was first reported on the Council of Foreign Relations website.
American funds were to be used by the group to organize protests and rallies against militants and suicide bombings, an embassy official told the AP.
The Sunni alliance that was formed in 2009 to fight rising extremism in Pakistan has termed the Taliban "a product of global anti-Islam conspiracies." The alliance includes Barelvi (Sufi) Muslims and has launched countrywide demonstrations, including the "Save Pakistan Movement," against growing Taliban influence there.
The group drew flak from liberal quarters after it spearheaded nationwide protests calling for the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed murderer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Qadri disagreed with Taseer's opposition of blasphemy laws that called for capital punishment against individuals who insult Islam.
The Sunni group also threatened a "nationwide anarchy" if Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother sentenced to death for defaming the prophet Muhammad, is pardoned by the Pakistani president.
The council's head denied receiving U.S. funding, which was expected given the prevailing anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
"The propaganda is being unleashed against us because we are strongly opposed to Western democracy and American policies in the region and in the world," the AP reports the council's head Sahibzada Fazal Karim saying.
"We are against extremism, but we support Qadri because he did the right thing," Karim added.