A joint investigation withProPublica

U.S. Offers Up to $10 Million Reward for Alleged Mumbai Mastermind

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Shortly after yesterday’s surprise U.S. announcement of a $10 million reward “for information leading up to the arrest and conviction of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed,” the suspected mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks brazenly took to the airwaves to defend himself.

“I am telling you today that we will accept any decision today by courts if a link is established between us and the [Mumbai] attacks,” he tells Al Jazeera English in the above video. “There are international courts that India should approach, and we are ready to face them. We will defend ourselves. We have a solid defense, and all India has is media propaganda.”

Saeed is the spiritual leader of Lashkar-i-Taiba, the Pakistan-based terrorist group, which has links to the ISI, Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, and carried out the 2008 attacks that left 166 dead, including six Americans.

Last November, a year-long investigation by FRONTLINE and ProPublica into Pakistani-American Lashkar operative David Headley’s role in the Mumbai attacks revealed that Headley had an inspirational meeting with Saeed in the winter of 2000.

“Saeed made a statement that was Headley’s epiphany: ‘One second spent in jihad is superior to 100 years of worship and prayer,'” ProPublica reporter Sebastian Rotella wrote of the meeting.

Saeed claims he has no ties to terrorists, and that he is merely the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Lashkar’s charity wing. But Headley told U.S. interrogators that Saeed is “close to the ISI” and “well protected.”

Western and Indian intelligence officials say JuD is a front for Lashkar, and both the U.S. and India have repeatedly called for Saeed’s arrest and prosecution.

But aside from a few brief periods of house arrest, Saeed appears to operate inside Pakistan with few restrictions. He is a frequent guest on Pakistani media channels, and over the past few months, has teamed up with an umbrella group of Islamist parties known as the Pakistan Defense Council to address anti-American rallies that attract thousands.

In February, the State Department expressed concern about a Karachi rally during which Saeed railed against re-opening NATO-supply routes in the country. But the $10 million bounty — announced by the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs during a visit to India yesterday — is the strongest action the U.S. has taken against Saeed to date. The U.S. also announced a separate reward up to $2 million for information leading to the capture of Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki, Saeed’s brother-in-law.

It is unclear what motivated the announcement now, but as Rotella explains, the move is a sign of just how badly relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have deteriorated as the Obama administration has been more aggressive with Islamabad.

“This is a name-and-shame tactic directed at two of the most public figures in Lashkar,” Stephen Tankel, an American University professor and author of Storming the World Stage told Rotella. “It appears to be part of a long-term effort to exert pressure on the Pakistani government.”

Though Pakistan has charged seven Pakistanis, including  Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a high-profile Lashkar operative, for the attacks, their trials have stalled. Saeed has not been charged.

As the International Crisis Group noted in a December 2010 report, Pakistani terror trials produce few convictions, and are marred by “corruption, intimidation and external interference,” including by military intelligence agencies. Many of the accused are released on bail or await trial for years as they continue to direct operations from within prison walls.

Last November, FRONTLINE and ProPublica also revealed that Lakhvi, who is awaiting trial in Pakistan, was using a cell phone in prison to direct Lashkar operations. In a meeting with a senior U.S. official last summer, Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani reportedly rejected a request that the phone be taken away from Lakhvi.

Saeed appears to be unshaken by the latest U.S. move.  “We’re not hiding in caves for rewards to be set on finding us,” he told Al Jazeera English. “We are addressing hundreds of thousands of people daily in Pakistan.”

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