LAHORE, (AFP): Pakistani authorities Wednesday detained the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, a security official said, as the country faces increased pressure to crack down on militants operating on its soil.
Firebrand cleric Hafiz Saeed — declared a global terrorist by the US and UN, and who had a $10 million US bounty on his head — was taken into custody following a raid by counter-terrorism forces in the eastern city of Gujranwala.
“Hafiz Saeed was going to Gujranwala to apply for bail in another case when he was arrested,” said a security official with knowledge of the arrest, who requested anonymity.
A spokesman for Saeed’s group, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a wing of the militant organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), confirmed the arrest to AFP, but gave no further details.
Another security official said the arrest relates to terror financing charges.
Saeed has spent years rotating in and out of varying forms of detention, sometimes under house arrest, sometimes briefly arrested then released again by authorities.
But for the most part he has been free to move at will around Pakistan, enraging India, which has repeatedly called for his prosecution over his alleged role in the 2008 attack that killed more than 160 people.
LeT is accused by India and Washington of masterminding the four-day assault on Mumbai. Saeed has denied involvement.
US President Donald Trump hailed his arrest on Twitter.
“After a ten year search, the so-called ‘mastermind’ of the Mumbai Terror attacks has been arrested in Pakistan,” he wrote.
“Great pressure has been exerted over the last two years to find him!”
Saeed’s arrest came days ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden visit to the White House, amid hopes the trip will repair Pakistan’s acrimonious relationship with Washington.
Since taking office in 2017, Trump has frequently singled out Islamabad for failing to rein in extremists and being an unfaithful partner in the fight against militants.
– Blacklisting –
Pakistan is facing a potential blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force — an anti-money-laundering monitor based in Paris — for failing to do enough to combat terror financing.
The organisation is set rule on the country’s fate in the coming months after placing it on a watchlist last year.
In February, Pakistani authorities banned Saeed’s JuD and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) — charities that have long been considered fronts for militant activity targeting India.
Washington and New Delhi have long urged Pakistan to take action against LeT, which was banned by Islamabad in 2002 but re-branded itself as JuD and FIF.
And earlier this year, Pakistan arrested more than 100 suspected militants and shuttered hundreds of religious schools.
The arrests came during an ongoing crackdown on extremists, following clashes with India after a Pakistan-based group killed dozens of Indian security forces in a February suicide bombing in Kashmir.
The attack led to both countries staging tit-for-tat air raids, igniting fears of an all-out conflict as world powers pleaded for restraint.
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