The United States has offered a $10 million reward for the capture of the founder of the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group blamed for the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.
The bounty for Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was announced by U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman in India on Monday and posted on the U.S. government’s Rewards for Justice website.
Saeed’s bounty is the second highest reward currently offered by the U.S. government, after the $25 million for al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Saeed is head of the charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, banned by Pakistan as it is believed to be a front for LeT.
Last month, he addressed thousands of people during a rally in Islamabad urging Pakistan not to reopen its Afghan border to NATO and U.S. supply convoys.
The Rewards for Justice Notice said Saeed was “suspected of masterminding numerous terrorist attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 166 people, including six American citizens.”
The government in New Delhi welcomed the announcement, saying it reflected the commitment of India and the United States to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice.
India’s foreign minister S.M. Krishna suggested that the bounty showed Washington was beginning to understand India’s fears about terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
“In recent years India and U.S. have moved much closer than they were before in our endeavor in fighting terrorism. In this context, India welcomes this initiative of the government of the United States,” Krishna told reporters Tuesday. “It’s a strong message to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its members and patrons that international community is united in combating terrorism.”
The U.S. and India “agree that all terrorist organizations, including LeT, should be defeated and have called for elimination of terrorist safe havens and infrastructure inside Pakistan and Afghanistan,” the statement added.
Pakistan put Saeed under house arrest a month after the Mumbai attacks. But he was freed in 2009, and in 2010 the Supreme Court upheld his release on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to detain him.
Washington also posted a $3 million reward for Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki, described as LeT’s second-in-command.
Dawa, which is one of Pakistan’s biggest charities and known across the country for its relief work after a 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, has long denied all terror accusations.
However, both LeT and Dawa are blacklisted by the U.S. government as foreign terrorist organizations.
News of the bounty comes as Washington and Islamabad seek to repair their fractious relationship, which has been hit by a series of crises over the past year.
U.S. lawmakers voiced fury when they discovered that al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan. Pakistan in turn closed its Afghan border to NATO supplies in November after an air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The White House voiced regret for the deaths.
Hafiz Mohammad Saeed
Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, born in 1950 in Pakistan, is a former professor of Arabic and Engineering, as well as the founding member of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its military branch, Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Saeed is suspected of masterminding numerous terrorist attacks, including the 2001 attacks on Indian parliament and 2008 Mumbai attacks, which resulted in the deaths of more than 160 people.
India issued an Interpol Red Corner Notice against Saeed for his role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Additionally, the United States Department of the Treasury has designated Saeed as a Specially Designated National under Executive Order 13224.
Lashkar-e-Taiba was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in December 2001. In 2008, the both the United States and the United Nations designated Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a terrorist organization.
Saeed is still able to address rallies of Islamists across Pakistan, while supposedly being under house arrest and despite American and U.N. actions.
A U.S. official said the timing of the bounty was not a response to Saeed’s recent public appearances.