ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An alleged terrorist who heads up an aid agency in Pakistan told NBC News he does not "really care" about the allegations against him, insisting he only wants to help victims of last month's deadly earthquake.
According to the State Department and the United Nations, Hafiz Abdul Rauf is a designated terrorist whose Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation is a front for a militant organization blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
But inside Pakistan, the aid group remains popular and was among the first agencies on the scene following the magnitude-7.5 earthquake struck the region on Oct. 26.
"Hundreds of houses are destroyed. Temperatures have dropped. It's snowing and ... people are homeless in a race against the winter," the 42-year-old said. "And you expect me to be bothered by this nonsense about being a terrorist?"
His foundation has dispatched more than 2,000 workers to help with the relief effort, according to Rauf. The group were working alongside the government and army, he said, and had already medically treated 9,000 survivors while preparing food for around 8,000 people each day.
"People can believe that we are terrorists but we don't really care," Rauf told NBC News. "We are only worried about helping people. We have seven medical teams, 100 paramedics, nine doctors, and several engineers. Do you think this is how terrorists work?"
The U.S. and U.N. would answer Rauf's question with an emphatic "yes." They allege that his foundation is a front for a Pakistan-based terror group called Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, or LeT.
Among other incidents, the LeT has been accused by the Indian government of carrying out the November 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai. Gunman armed with assault rifles and grenades assaulted a dozen locations, killing more than 160 people. Rauf denies that his group had any links to that attack.
According to the U.S. and U.N., the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation still acts as a front for the militants, using its relief work to preach extremism and recruit fighters to its cause.
Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the parent organization of the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation, admits it was formerly linked to the LeT and its fight against Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir region.
"We were with the LeT, once, but now that the world is changed, and we have concentrated on welfare," Jamaat-ud-Dawa spokesman Asif Khursheed told NBC News.
More than 300 people died, mostly in remote, mountainous Pakistan, after last month's quake. Thousands of people were injured and many more left homeless after the tremor triggered massive landslides and rocked cities as far away as India.
In a country where officials struggle to reach remote areas affected by earthquakes and other disasters, the speed and reach of the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation has made it popular among civilians.
Shahid Ullah, a 26-year-old from the quake-hit region of Dir, has been volunteering with the group for more than eight years.
"They are the first to respond, they get to the ground when nobody else can," he said. "They care about my people. They are God-fearing humans and they need our prayers and support."
Another Dir resident, 25-year-old student Mir Mohsinuddin, said the foundation "got here before any other organization, second only to the police."
He added: "They helped us out with rations and also assessed the damage to our house. Their help is a gift from Allah."