ISLAMABAD: The banned charity organisation headed by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has issued a strong response to the 10-million-dollar bounty offered by the United States for information leading to its leader’s arrest. Jamaat-ud-Dawa gave a defiant response, condemning the US move and saying it was made to “please India”.
“Hafiz Saeed is not a fugitive, he is not on the run, he is not living in caves, he has not committed any crime and the court has declared him an innocent person,” Hafiz Muhammad Masood, the group’s central information secretary told AFP.
“He is continuing his activities and the bounty announcement will not affect them.”
The reward for Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) who makes frequent public appearances in Pakistan, was announced by US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman in India on Monday, and posted on the US government’s Rewards for Justice website.
Saeed is head of the banned charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, seen as a front for LeT, and on March 27 he addressed thousands of people at a rally in Islamabad urging Pakistan not to reopen its Afghan border to NATO and US supply convoys.
The Rewards for Justice notice said Saeed was “suspected of masterminding numerous terrorist attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 166 people, including six American citizens”.
Under the scheme overseen by the State Department, the United States pays out bounties for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a named suspect.
The money offered for information leading to Saeed’s arrest and conviction is the same as the sum offered by the US for the Afghan Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar.
Only Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri commands a larger bounty – $25 million.
Washington also posted a $2 million reward for Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki, described as LeT’s second-in-command.
The Pakistani foreign ministry said it had no immediate comment to make on the US announcement, while the government in New Delhi welcomed the move, saying it reflected the commitment of India and the United States to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice.
“It also sends a strong signal to LeT, and also its members and patrons, that the international community remains united in combating terrorism,” the Indian foreign ministry said.
Analysts doubted whether the cash bounty would lead to any action against Saeed.
Sreeram Chaulia, a professor at India’s Jindal School of International Affairs, said Saeed was “intrinsically linked” to Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.
“The Pakistan establishment will not hand him over for the bounty, and any private citizen who tries to make cash through tipping off the Americans will be targeted,” Chaulia told AFP.
Pakistan put Saeed under house arrest a month after the Mumbai attacks. But he was freed in 2009, and in 2010 the Supreme Court upheld his release on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to detain him.
Pakistani analyst Imtiaz Gul said previous unsuccessful legal action against Saeed made it difficult to detain him again.
“Arrest him on what grounds? The mere fact that the US says something may not necessarily relate in a legal case against somebody,” he told AFP.
“There has to be some sort of evidence that you can prove in a court of law.”
Dawa, which is one of Pakistan’s biggest charities and known across the country for its relief work after a 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, has long denied all terror accusations.
However, both LeT and Dawa are blacklisted by the US government as foreign terrorist organisations.