Pakistani authorities released the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks from house arrest, but he still has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head.
Hafiz Saeed, whose arrest in January was seen as a signal of a broader shift in Pakistan’s treatment of extremists, was freed before dawn Friday local time in the city of Lahore, according to Hafiz Abdul Rauf, a spokesman for the Islamist cleric’s charity.
“I’m happy that no allegation against me was proved, which could have done damage to me, or my country’s interests,” Saeed later told supporters. “Thank God, we were vindicated.”
Saeed ran the Jamaat-Ud-Dawa organization (Party of the Faith), which is thought to be a front for the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba militant group. India believes that Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was behind the deadly attack in Mumbai.
Pakistan has been detaining and freeing Saeed off and on since the attacks left 166 dead, including several Americans.
His release came after a panel of judges dismissed a government request to continue his house arrest, which ended Thursday. Four aides had already been released.
The government’s decision to place Saeed under house arrest in January was driven in part by President Donald Trump’s arrival on the world stage as well as pressure from China, according to military insiders, and his release prompted a sharply worded statement from the State Department.
The United States is “deeply concerned” about Saeed’s release, given that Lashkar-e-Tayyaba is “responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, including a number of American citizens,” the statement said. “The Pakistani government should make sure that he is arrested and charged for his crimes.”
India’s External Affairs Ministry also condemned the release, and said in a statement that a “self-confessed and U.N. proscribed terrorist was being allowed to walk free and continue with his evil agenda.”
“He was not only the mastermind, he was the prime organizer of the Mumbai terror attacks in which many innocent Indians and many people from other nationalities were killed,” spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Wajahat S. Khan