Who is Hafiz Saeed?

Who is Hafiz Saeed?
Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, red-haired, 61 and India's most-wanted, now rubs shoulders with the likes of Taliban founder Mullah Omar and Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri as one of the five most-wanted terrorists in the world, featuring on an American rogue's list with a bounty of 10 million dollars on his head.

Saeed, the founder of the deadly Lashkar-e-Taiba, is believed to have crafted the 2008 attack on Mumbai that left 166 people dead. America confirms that it is 26/11 Mumbai that prompted the huge bounty on Saeed - six Americans were among those killed in the attack. Saeed was declared a global terrorist in 2008. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a so-called socio-religious charitable organisation that he heads, is banned; it is widely seen as a front for the terror outfit Lashkar. India, which has made constant demands that Pakistan, where Saeed lives a free man take action against him, has an Interpol Red Corner Notice out. The US Department of Treasury has designated him as a Specially Designated National under Executive Order 13224.

Hafiz Saeed was born on May 6, 1950 in Sargodha in the Punjab province of Pakistan. His ancestors belonged to Kashmir and his family lived in Shimla, India, before Partition. Hafiz Saeed holds two Masters degrees and has taught Engineering in Lahore. He is also said to have been a gold-medal student in Saudi Arabia; he is believed to have been a student of Sheikh bin Baz, who also taught Osama bin Laden.

Saeed is described by the US as a "former professor of Arabic and Engineering, as well as the founding member of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a radical Deobandi Islamist organization dedicated to installing Islamist rule over parts of India and Pakistan, and its military branch, Lashkar-e-Taiba. Saeed is suspected of masterminding numerous terrorist attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 166 people, including six American citizens."

But Pakistan says it still needs evidence before it can act against Saeed.  In that country, Hafiz Saeed routinely addresses large anti-India rallies, making fiery, rabble-rousing speeches. Lately, cashing in on anti-America sentiments following a NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November last, Saeed has organised massive anti-US rallies across Pakistan.

Immediately after the US bounty on him became known, Saeed spoke to television channel Al Jazeera and said with much insouciance that he was not hiding in a cave. He also said that the US bounty was prompted by the fact that he had been "organising rallies against the opening of supply lines to NATO forces in Afghanistan".

Saeed has reason for his confidence, say analysts. It is unlikely to be as simple a matter as the man being hunted down and captured. Hafiz Saeed is believed to be a powerful figure in Pakistan and allegedly has close links with the army and the ISI. Ministers have been seen at public rallies that he has held in the Pakistan capital of Islamabad.  The presence of top Pakistani politicians like PML-N chairman Raja Zafrul Haq and former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi alongside Saeed at a meeting in Lahore on February 18, is an example of the immense political clout and patronage that he reportedly enjoys.

Saeed founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the 1980s, along with his brother in law Abdul Rehman Makki, who too now carries a US bounty of 3 million dollars on his head. The Lashkar's stated intent was to pressure India on Kashmir. The terror outfit has grown since into one of the world's most lethal militant groups and is believed to be behind most recent terror attacks in India. The Lashkar leaves a deadly imprint on the assignments it executes - Saeed is said to mastermind them.

The Lashkar was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in December, 2001, by the US. But even as its funding and network came under global scrutiny, nothing seemed to trip Saeed up as he went about his anti-India business as usual in neighbouring Pakistan - he founded the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. He later also brought religious and militant groups under an umbrella group called the Defence Council of Pakistan of Difai-e-Pakistan.   

The Mumbai attacks in 2008 turned India's focused attention on Saeed. The United Nations Security Council declared his Jamaat a terrorist organization in December 2008, a month after the 26/11 attacks. Facing intense international pressure, Pakistan was forced to ban the organisation. Saeed was placed under house arrest for several months after the Mumbai attacks but was eventually released after he challenged his detention in court. Islamabad has, since, resisted Indian demands to act against him, saying it doesn't have the necessary evidence. This despite India presenting dossier after dossier to Pakistan implicating Saeed and several other LeT leaders. Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik seemed to shrug as he pointed out that Saeed had ordered free by no less than his country's Supreme Court.

After his release, Saeed kept a low profile for a while but was back soon enough with his public anti-India rants. In April last year, he visited Islamabad for the first time since the Mumbai attacks, to lead funeral prayers for Kashmiri leader Maulvi Showkat Ahmed Shah. Since then, he has been operating openly from his base in Lahore, traveling widely and even appearing on TV talk shows.

In Pakistan, Saeed also leverages the public perception of a do-gooder - many in Pakistan cite the goodwill earned by the Jamaat-ud-Dawa for its massive contribution in relief work during the devastating earthquake in 2005 and the floods in 2010.

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