Authorities in Pakistan have arrested Hafiz Saeed, founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), or Army of the Pure, the militant group blamed by the United States and India for a four-day attack on Mumbai in 2008, Geo Television said on Wednesday.
A spokesman for Jammaat ud-Dawa (JuD), a charity run by Saeed, said counter-terrorism officials arrested Saeed while he was on his way to the central Pakistan town of Gujranwala. The charges he faces are still unknown but appear to be linked to terrorism financing, the spokesman added.
The United States has offered a $10 million reward for Saeed’s arrest and Washington recently stepped up pressure on Islamabad to crack down on terror groups.
In response, Pakistan registered over a dozen cases against Saeed and several of his associates, accusing them of funding militant groups through charities and leading to Wednesday’s arrest.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is to leave for Washington over the weekend on his first official visit to the United States as premier.
After his arrest, Saeed was taken before a judge and was ordered held in jail until the next hearing on Tuesday, Shafiq said. The cleric had been en route to Gujranwala to post bail in the terror financing case but was detained before he could do so.
In Pakistan, a suspect can be free on bail pending investigation and trial.
Saeed’s spokesman Nadim Awan denounced the arrest and said the cleric had dissociated himself from Lashker-e-Taiba in 2001 and has had no links with the organization since then. Lashker-e-Taiba was banned in 2002.
Awan said they would challenge Saeed’s arrest before a higher court.
Until the terror financing case, Saeed had for months lived freely in Pakistan, often addressing anti-India rallies for which he became popular amid a dramatic confrontation between the two nuclear-armed rivals earlier this year.
Saeed’s two charities were banned in February last year, and the government froze their assets in compliance with a UN request. Pakistan’s Supreme Court last September allowed them to resume operations only to be banned again earlier this year under a government action plan against terrorism and extremism.
Previously, Saeed had been detained several times, along with some of his close aides, but had not been charged or put on trial.
He was taken into custody in January last year and kept under house arrest for 11 months until a court order ended his detention in November. He was also detained in 2001 and 2008, when he was kept confined to a government-run house and at his home.
In recent months, the government also took over schools, mosques, seminaries and all properties linked to Saeed’s charities and froze their assets.
Pakistan is currently on the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list, denoting its status as a haven for money laundering. It has until October to avoid black listing.