ISLAMABAD: A man with a $10 million US government bounty on him might be expected to have gone into hiding, but Hafiz Mohammad Saeed is one of Pakistan's most high-profile and outspoken Islamists. The bearded, bespectacled former university professor has been a regular presence at the head of rallies in recent months delivering fiery rhetoric...
ISLAMABAD: A man with a $10 million US government bounty on him might be expected to have gone into hiding, but Hafiz Mohammad Saeed is one of Pakistan's most high-profile and outspoken Islamists.
The bearded, bespectacled former university professor has been a regular presence at the head of rallies in recent months delivering fiery rhetoric against NATO killings and Pakistani cooperation with the United States.
Washington has offered $10 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Saeed, the founder of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed 166 people.
LeT, whose name means “army of the pious,” was established in 1989 to fight Indian rule in Kashmir and has past links to Pakistani intelligence services and Al-Qaeda.
Saeed reportedly abandoned LeT when it was outlawed in Pakistan after India accused the group of being behind a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament which pushed the nuclear rivals to the brink of war, and he became head of the charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa.
Pakistan put Saeed and three of his charity co-leaders under house arrest in December 2008, a month after Mumbai, and publicly shut their offices after the UN Security Council blacklisted the organisation as a terror group.
He was freed by a Lahore court in 2009, a decision then upheld by the Supreme Court, which ruled there was insufficient evidence that he should be detained.
Dawa, one of Pakistan's biggest charities and known across the country for its relief work after the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, is seen as a front for LeT but has long denied all terror accusations.
In recent months the 62-year-old has taken a prominent role in the Defence of Pakistan coalition, an umbrella body for various anti-American Islamist organisations.
Saeed addressed thousands of supporters at a March 27 rally urging Pakistan not to reopen its Afghan border to NATO and US supply convoys — closed after US air strikes mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border.
“American agents will once again sneak into Pakistan and start killing our innocent citizens,” Saeed told the crowd.
The $10 million reward is second only to the $25 million the US has offered for Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, but analysts doubted whether it would be enough to see him detained, as he is seen as enjoying support from Pakistan's powerful ISI intelligence agency.
Dawa spokesman Muhammad Yahya Mujahid insisted Saeed was a “mainstream religious and political leader” and said the US had offered the bounty because of his campaign against reopening NATO supply routes. AGENCIES