Islamabad: Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the man India wants for the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, is combative as he lashes out at the US for declaring him a most-wanted terrorist with a 10-million-dollar bounty on his head. And at India as he is wont to do in public rants. The Lashkar-e-Taiba founder, who is a free man in his country, Pakistan, spoke extensively to the media after the US announced the reward for his capture; he mocked the bounty and said America was nervous. (Who is Hafiz Saeed?)
Washington has offered that reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Saeed, whom India and the United States blame for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. The decision was announced by US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman on a visit to India on Monday.
The Lashkar founder told AFP that the US move had come at the behest of India. "The action against me is also an act of terrorism and America is doing it on the behest of India which is making fool out of it," AFP quoted Saeed as saying. He also said that the United States had slapped him with the bounty because of a campaign he was leading to stop the Pakistani government from reopening NATO and US supply routes to Afghanistan.
"The movement that we have organised after the formation of Defence of Pakistan Council is becoming very effective and it is impacting parliament's decision about NATO supplies and this factor is disturbing for America and that is why they have announced a bounty on me," he told AFP.
The NATO angle is a leitmotif. To the news agency AP too Saeed said that the US had announced the reward because of his demonstrations. "With the grace of God, we will continue our work as usual. These threats and fixing a bounty is a proof of nervousness," he was quoted as saying.
The 61-year-old Saeed, who operates openly in Pakistan from his base in Lahore and travels widely, giving public speeches and appearing on TV talk shows, is said to enjoy enormous clout politically and with Pakistan's powerful Army and ISI. "We are among the people all the time. So why does America need to announce a 10 (m) million (US dollar) reward. It can contact me any time it wants," Saeed told AP.
Earlier yesterday, Saeed was quoted by Al Jazeera TV as saying, "We are not hiding in caves for bounties to be set on finding us. I think the US is frustrated because we are taking out countrywide protests against the resumption of NATO supplies and drone strikes...I believe either the US has very little knowledge and is basing its decisions on wrong information being provided by India or they are just frustrated".
The bounty offers could complicate US-Pakistan relations at a tense time. Pakistan's parliament is debating a revised framework for ties with the US following American air-strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November. Islamabad had closed the supply lines to NATO troops in response. It is the reopening of these supply lines that Hafiz Saeed has organised rallies against.