NEW DELHI, (Reuters) – The United States has put up a $10 million reward to help arrest Pakistani Islamist leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, suspected of masterminding two spectacular attacks on India’s financial capital and its parliament.
The offer comes at a time of heightened tension between Washington and Pakistan and increases pressure on Pakistan to take action against the former Arabic scholar, who has recently addressed rallies despite an Interpol warrant against him.
India has long called for Saeed’s arrest and said the bounty – one of the highest on offer – was a sign the United States understood its security concerns. Only last week Saeed evaded police to address an anti-U.S. rally in Islamabad.
“India welcomes this new initiative of the government of the United States,” External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said on Tuesday of the reward announced on the U.S. Rewards for Justice website.
“In recent years, India and the United States have moved much closer than ever before in our common endeavor of fighting terrorists.”
The United States only offers a $10 million reward for three other people it suspects of terrorism, with a single reward of up to $25 million for Egyptian-born Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Saeed, 61, is suspected of masterminding numerous terrorist attacks, including the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Poor train commuters, foreigners and some of India’s wealthy business elite were killed by 10 Pakistani gunmen in a three-day rampage through some of Mumbai’s best-known landmarks, including two luxury hotels and a Jewish centre. A total of 166 people died, including six U.S. citizens.
In the 1990s, he founded Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), or the Army of the Pure, one of the largest and best-funded Islamist militant organizations in South Asia. He abandoned its leadership after India blamed it and another militant group for an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001.
Saeed, released from prison by a Pakistani court in 2010, now heads an Islamic charity that the United Nations says is a front for the militant group.
LeT was nurtured by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency to fight India in disputed Kashmir and analysts say it is still unofficially tolerated by Pakistan, though it was banned in the country in 2002.
Admiral Robert Willard, the head of the United States military’s Pacific Command, last year expressed concern over the expanding reach of LeT, saying it was no longer solely focused on India, or even in South Asia.