Profile: Hafiz Saeed - Pakistan's $10m 'bounty man'

  • 4 April 2012
  • From the section Asia
Hafiz Saeed
Image caption Mr Saeed is known constantly to change the names of the groups that he leads

One of Pakistan's most well-known hardliners is back in the headlines with the US announcement of a $10m bounty for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group.

Mr Saeed founded LeT in the early 1990s. He revived a much older organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) in 2002, when LeT was banned by the Pakistani government.

The JuD has sharply reacted to the American offer, calling it "another attack on Islam and the Muslims".

In recent weeks, Mr Saeed and a host of other leaders heading religious or ultra-right groups have been travelling from city to city campaigning against the US and India.

Barely a week ago, they held a rally in capital Islamabad to oppose the possible reopening of Nato's supply routes.

Pakistan closed the routes in November following a US air raid on a border post that resulted in the accidental deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The JuD is also firmly opposed to any normalisation of trade ties with India.

Delhi blames Mr Saeed and his organisation of carrying out several militant attacks on its territory, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks. It has been critical of the freedom he enjoys in Pakistan.

But Pakistan says there is no evidence to arrest him and put him on trial.

On his part, Mr Saeed says that the JuD is a welfare organisation and has no links to LeT or any other militant group. He denies any involvement in the Mumbai attacks.

International pressure

In August 2006, he was detained for activities which the government at the time said were "detrimental" to its relations with other governments. But a court ordered his release the following December.

Two years later he was again put under house arrest, this time following the Mumbai attacks of November 2008.

The Pakistani government later acknowledged that "part" of the conspiracy to attack Mumbai did take place on its soil, and that LeT had been involved.

Several arrests were made in Pakistan in connection with the attacks, but no criminal charges were brought against Mr Saeed. He was freed some six months later.

Significantly, both these detentions came at a time of mounting international pressure on Pakistan to rein in the LeT.

On both occasions, the government arrested Mr Saeed but brought no criminal charges against him.

Pakistan's actions against the group as a whole have also been rather tentative, apparently taken under outside pressure.

It proscribed LeT in January 2002 after the US put it on its list of terrorist organisations.

Likewise, it placed JuD on a national watch list in December 2008 after the UN imposed sanctions on the controversial charity.

This raised eyebrows in Pakistan where the links between the militant and social welfare wings of some groups are often not clear.

Since 9/11, some organisations banned by the US or Pakistan have continued to operate under different aliases, portraying themselves as welfare rather than militant outfits.

Propaganda network

In some cases it appears that the authorities have turned a blind eye when militant groups have simply renamed themselves and continued operating as before.

Image caption Mr Saeed's security is in general kept to a minimum

The LeT/JuD combination would appear to be one such case.

LeT was an offshoot of Jamaat-ud-Dawa wal-Irshad, a preaching, publishing and propaganda network set up by Hafiz Saeed for jihad (holy war) in Afghanistan in 1985.

Abdullah Uzzam, a Palestinian scholar and one of the earliest Arab ideologues of jihad in Afghanistan, was a co-founder.

Mr Saeed formed LeT as the militant wing of Jamaat-ud-Dawa wal-Irshad in the early 1990s, when many militant groups started to move from Afghanistan to Kashmir after the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan.

Subsequently, LeT's rise as a major Pakistani group operating in Kashmir is widely credited to Mr Saeed's close links with the Pakistani military and intelligence services.

The group also had access to huge funds from Middle Eastern mosques and a countrywide network to raise donations.

After 9/11 LeT came under increasing international pressure, principally because of its involvement in some high-profile attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir and cities in India.

The Indians blamed the group for attacks in Mumbai and Delhi in 2003, 2005 and 2008.

It was also named in connection with armed raids on Delhi's Red Fort in December 2000 and on the Indian parliament a year later.

Signboards changed

Days before LeT was proscribed by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in January 2002, Hafiz Saeed revived the group's parent organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa wal-Irshad, and amended its name.

Hence LeT was replaced by JuD on the signboards of the group's offices and recruiting centres around Pakistan.

But there was no significant change in the nature of its activities.

Their offices continued to recruit fighters for militant training camps occupied by LeT in Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

The presence of militants in those camps made it possible for them to start early rescue missions in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the Kashmir region in October 2005.

That enabled the Musharraf government to portray JuD as an efficient relief organisation working closely with the Pakistan army as well as UN agencies in quake-hit areas.

Since it was banned, LeT has experienced some defections from its ranks by elements not happy with Pakistan's policy of easing tensions with India.

But independent observers believe the bulk of the organisation has remained united under the clandestine leadership of Hafiz Saeed.

These observers point out that LeT has remained more loyal to Islamabad's policies than other militant groups, and has remained comparatively more focused on India.

Many suspect Mr Saeed and other JuD leaders of playing a role in the 2002 arrest of some top al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.

These operatives - including top al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah - were arrested from a LeT safe house in the city of Faisalabad.

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