Suspected Terror Mastermind Free to Rail Against India and ‘Blasphemy’
Hafiz Mohammad Saeed’s freedom to operate without hindrance was made clear just a day before the Pakistani supreme court ruling, when he hosted and chaired a meeting in Lahore of Islamist groups which concluded that the United Nations should declare “blasphemy of prophets” a capital offense.
“All Muslim countries should put pressure on the U.N. to pass a law with death penalty for those committing blasphemy,” said Saeed, calling for a permanent ban on Facebook in Pakistan over the recent Mohammed controversy.
On Tuesday, Pakistan’s supreme court upheld a lower court’s verdict from a year ago, dismissing an appeal and saying the government had not provided sufficient evidence to link Saeed to India’s worst terrorist attack.
The earlier verdict prompted the authorities to release Saeed from the house arrest he was placed under a month after the Mumbai attacks. Under pressure from India and others, the government then appealed.
More than 170 people, six Americans among them, were killed by 10 terrorists from Pakistan during the 60-hour assault in India’s commercial capital. Accusing Saeed of masterminding the operation, India demanded his arrest and extradition, providing dossiers to back up its allegations.
India based the claims on intelligence information and the interrogation of the sole surviving gunman, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) member Ajmal Amir Kasab, who reportedly confessed that Saeed had met with members of the assault team towards the end of their preparations, saying they were blessed to be martyrs. (An Indian court sentenced Kasab to death earlier this month.)
Saeed was a founder of LeT, a group established in the late 1980s with the backing of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) service to fight Indian rule in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
After the al-Qaeda-affiliated LeT attacked the Indian Parliament shortly after 9/11, Pakistan under U.S. pressure outlawed the group, but its activities continued under the name of its pre-existing “charitable” parent organization, Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD).
Saeed, who heads JuD, insists the two groups are separate and unrelated, an assertion widely disputed by terrorism researchers. The State Department describes JuD as the LeT’s “front organization.”
After the Mumbai attacks the U.N. Security Council also declared JuD to be a front for LeT, and added JuD, Saeed and three other leaders to a list of entities known to support al-Qaeda and the Taliban. (LeT had already been listed in 2005.)
Shortly before the U.N. listing, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.N., Abdullah Hussain Haroon, told the Security Council that once JuD was designated, his government would “proscribe the JuD and take other consequential actions, as required, including the freezing of assets.”
Haroon added that no training camps for LeT “or any entity of this nature” would be allowed on Pakistani territory, and that the alleged Mumbai suspects would be arrested.
Saeed was duly arrested, but Pakistan refused to extradite him, instead detaining him at home under public order ordinances. No criminal charges were brought against him.
Since his release from house arrest following a Lahore court ruling in June 2009, his resumed anti-Indian rhetoric and activities have drawn sharp criticism from New Delhi.
Indian Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor said earlier this year that there had been “no decline” in support from Pakistan for terrorists fighting Indian rule in divided Kashmir, charging that Saeed and others were operating with impunity from Pakistani soil.
‘Rivers of blood’
India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao on Tuesday expressed disappointment about the latest supreme court ruling, “especially when we regard Hafiz Saeed as one of the masterminds of the Mumbai terror attacks and he has openly urged jihad against India.”
Rao told a press briefing India had provided Pakistan with evidence “on the role and activities of Hafiz Saeed” and noted that Islamabad had given assurances “that it will not allow its soil to be used for terror activities against India.”
Although the Pakistani federal and provincial authorities brought the appeal against the 2009 court ruling freeing Saeed, critics believe the move was merely for show, noting the court’s assessment that the government had “failed to provide enough evidence to nail Hafiz Saeed for his involvement in the [Mumbai] attack.”
A spokesman for India’s opposition BJP party, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said Tuesday Pakistan had failed to build a strong case against Saeed, suggesting this was intentional as it did not want him to “spill the beans” on his group’s links to the ISI.
The suspicions have been fed by Pakistan’s dismissive attitude towards information India has provided – including dossiers handed over in Aug. 2009 and Feb. 2010 – regarding Saeed and LeT-JuD.
Last February, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir called the Indian dossier on Saeed “literature, not evidence,” and in April Islamabad said information provided by India linking Saeed to the Mumbai attack was not admissible in Pakistani courts.
Meanwhile, Saeed and JuD have not let up on their activism or anti-Indian statements.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, an India-based project monitoring terrorism and extremism, JuD frequently holds in rallies in Lahore and elsewhere – including one meeting in Islamabad last February where speakers were quoted as warning of “rivers of blood” in India.
Later that month, one day after India had agreed to resume high-level talks with Pakistan – which had been suspended following the Mumbai attacks – Saeed told a rally in Lahore that war was necessary if Indian rule in Kashmir was ever to end.
He predicted that India would suffer the same fate in Kashmir as the Soviets and Americans had experienced in Afghanistan.