Pakistani Radicals Plan Nationwide Protests Over U.S. Reward for Top Terror Suspect
(CNSNews.com) – Islamic radicals in Pakistan are planning nationwide protests on Friday following the U.S. government’s offer of a reward for “information leading to the arrest and conviction” of the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
The target of the $10 million reward, prominent Islamist Hafiz Saeed, called a press conference in Rawalpindi – home to Pakistan’s military headquarters – to shrug off the announcement, while Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it would need “concrete evidence” before acting against the 62 year-old.
Saeed appeared with a pro-Taliban ally, Sami-ul Haq, who announced a “countrywide protest” on the Muslim day of prayer. Haq runs a madrassa that was attended by key Taliban figures, including Mullah Omar, and heads a faction of an Islamist political party.
Saeed also gave several media interviews, including one with a Pakistani television station in which he accused the U.S. of “listening to the Indian lobby and not making its own decisions.”
Unlike many other bounties offered under the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program, the Saeed notice specifies that the money is offered for information leading to his conviction. Notices relating to al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, the Taliban’s Omar and others describe them as “wanted,” and associated public service announcements specify that those rewards are being offered for information leading to their “arrest or prosecution.”
“What’s important here is we’re not seeking this guy’s location,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday in reference to Saeed. “We all know where he is.”
“We’re looking for information that can be usable to convict him in a court of law,” he added.
Toner acknowledged there was “information out there” implicating Saeed but said that it is “based on intelligence” and could not be used in court.
The November 2008 assault in Mumbai left 166 people dead, including six Americans. Over a 60-hour period gunmen attacked a railway station, two hospitals, a municipal facility, a Jewish center, a cinema, a cafe, a bank and two hotels in India’s commercial capital.
Days later, India handed Pakistan a list of 20 suspects topped by Saeed, the founder and ideologue of Lashkar e-Toiba (LeT), the Pakistani Sunni group which India accuses of masterminding the attacks. Indian police said the sole surviving gunman had confessed that the operation was planned and carried out from Pakistani territory, and that Saeed had met with members of the assault team towards the end of the preparations, saying they were blessed to be martyrs.
Islamabad says it banned LeT in 2002 but it continues to operate under the name of its pre-existing “charitable” parent organization, Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD). The State Department calls JuD a “front operation” for LeT, and the Treasury Department’s list of specially designated terrorists names both JuD and LeT, as well as Saeed in his individual capacity.
LeT was set up in the late 1980s with the backing of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, primarily to fight Indian rule in disputed Kashmir. The al-Qaeda-linked group’s activities later broadened and a top U.S. military officer told U.S. lawmakers a year ago that LeT poses a “global threat.”
Pakistan says it has cooperated with India in investigating the Mumbai atrocity, and in March 2009, Interpol chief Ronald Noble said after meeting with Pakistani officials that he had received “police information on those who planned, facilitated and funded those attacks” as well as “detailed information about telephone numbers, bank accounts used in terrorist financing, Internet addresses, and the equipment and materials used to perpetrate these attacks.”
Five months later Pakistan even asked Interpol to help to track down 13 suspects, although neither Pakistan nor Interpol made the names of the 13 public. They evidently did not include Saeed, however, because on the same day the announcement was made Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement it had received information from India on the attack, but that the material relating to Saeed “is not really enough and that doesn’t really strengthen our hands to proceed legally as has been expected.”
Nonetheless, Interpol did later issue a “red notice” for Saeed, at India’s request, citing a alleged offenses including terrorism, kidnapping and “crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives.”
The international policing agency describes a red notice as one of its “most powerful tools in tracking international fugitives,” saying it “seeks the location, the apprehension and the provisional arrest of a wanted person, and is circulated to police in all of Interpol’s 190 member countries.
Pakistan, which is a member of Interpol, did place Saeed under house arrest for several months after Mumbai but refused to extradite him and laid no criminal charges against him. In mid-2009 the Lahore High Court ordered his release, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court the following May.
A year later, Saeed led protest rallies in Lahore after U.S. Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden at a safehouse near Islamabad. He called the dead terrorist a martyr and demanded the Pakistani government break ties with the United States.
A New Delhi-based security analyst expressed doubt Wednesday that Pakistan would act against Saeed now that the U.S. reward offer has put him back in the spotlight.
“Sacrificing Hafiz Saeed is not an easy option for the Pakistani government,” Bhaskar Roy wrote in an analysis. “He is too important with a large anti-American following and support from the army-ISI establishment.
“Pakistan’s only choice would be to detain Hafiz Saeed, provide him all amenities inside the jail including connectivity with his people, and drag on the trial for as long as possible,” he said.
Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said Wednesday that Pakistan “would prefer to receive concrete evidence to proceed legally rather than to be engaging in a public discussion on this issue. In a democratic country like Pakistan, where judiciary is independent, evidence against anyone must withstand judicial scrutiny.”
The State Department is also offering a $2 million reward for “information leading to the location” of Abdul Rahman Makki, described as LeT second-in-command.
Makki is Saeed’s brother-in-law. Indian officials cited in Indian media claim that Makki has close links with al-Qaeda’s Zawahiri.