Who wants to be a millionaire? In Pakistan, all you have to do is give the United States information leading to the arrest or conviction of Hafiz Saeed — an Islamist leader whose whereabouts are usually not a mystery. Saeed is suspected of masterminding the attack on India’s financial capital Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people, including six Americans.
U.S. authorities placed a bounty on Monday of up to $10 million on Saeed, but on Wednesday he was openly wandering across Pakistan’s military garrison town of Rawalpindi, hanging out with some of the most anti-American characters in the country.
“This is a laughable, absurd announcement. Here I am in front of everyone, not hiding in a cave,” Saeed told a news conference at a hotel — a mere 40-minute drive from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and just across from the headquarters of Pakistan’s army, recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid.
Saeed operates openly in Pakistan from his base in the eastern city of Lahore and travels widely, giving public speeches and appearing on TV talk shows. He has been one of the leading figures of the Difa-e-Pakistan, or Defense of Pakistan Council, which has held a series of large demonstrations in recent months against the U.S. and India.
“Now that he has a price on his head, for this money anyone is willing to do anything,” said Javed, a 55-year-old government employee who declined to give his full name. “Once people see the money there is no saving him, only God can save him.”
In Washington, U.S. officials said the decision to offer the $10 million reward under the State Department’s longstanding “Rewards for Justice” program came after months of discussions among U.S. agencies involved in counter-terrorism.
The $10 million figure signifies major U.S. interest in Saeed. Only three other militants, including Taliban leader Mullah Omar, fetch that high a bounty. There is a $25 million bounty on the head of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
At the same time it targeted Saeed, the U.S. government also offered a smaller reward — $2 million — for Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki, whom it said was the second in command of the militant group founded by Saeed, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
As with many militants sought by the United States — and unlike Saeed — Makki’s whereabouts are unknown to U.S. authorities. The bounty would be paid for information leading to his location. Makki is Saeed’s brother-in-law.
Pakistan banned LeT 2002 under U.S. pressure, but it operates with relative freedom under the name of its social welfare wing Jamaat-ud-Dawwa — even doing charity work using government money.
The U.S. has designated both groups as foreign terrorist organizations. Intelligence officials and terrorism experts say LeT has expanded its focus beyond India in recent years and has plotted attacks in Europe and Australia. Some have called it “the next al-Qaida” and fear it could set its sights on the U.S.
- US Offers $10m Reward For Mumbai Terror Suspect (kayceeweezy.wordpress.com)