Hafiz Mohammad Saeed is accused of masterminding the 2008 assault on Mumbai
The United States has offered $10 million for information that could lead to an arrest
Pakistan says it would like to receive evidence against him before taking legal action
"I am living my life in the open, and the U.S. can contact me," Saeed says
Pakistan has suggested that the United States needs to provide convincing evidence against a man accused of masterminding the 2008 terrorist assault on Mumbai, India, before it will take any action.
Washington posted a notice Monday offering as much as $10 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, a Pakistani man wanted by Indian authorities in connection with the Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people.
“Pakistan would prefer to receive concrete evidence to proceed legally rather than to be engaging in a public discussion on this issue,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“In a democratic country like Pakistan, where (the) judiciary is independent, evidence against anyone must withstand judicial scrutiny,” said the statement, which was released Wednesday.
Saeed has given an nonchalant response to the news of the multimillion-dollar offer for information that leads to his capture.
“I am living my life in the open, and the U.S. can contact me whenever they want,” he told Geo TV in Islamabad on Tuesday.
Saeed said the U.S. government had a problem with the Defense of Pakistan movement against drone attacks, adding that his presence had never caused any problems for Pakistan.
He said the Pakistani Supreme Court had cleared him and his organization of wrongdoing in relation to the Mumbai attacks.
“The U.S. government is listening to the Indian lobby and not making its own decisions,” he said, condemning the attacks in Mumbai.
Saeed has not been indicted in the United States, but the Treasury Department designated him and three other Lashkar-e-Tayyiba leaders as terrorists in 2008. It froze their assets in the United States and prohibited Americans from doing any business with them.
The “wanted” notice announcing the large bounty for Saeed, 62, was posted on the website of the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program late Monday.
The program was established in 1984 and has paid about $100 million to more than 70 people for information about terrorists. Rewards go as high as $25 million for information on al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The State Department calls the program “one of the most valuable assets the U.S. government has in the fight against international terrorism.”
Spokesman Mark Toner said the reward was for evidence that would implicate Saeed.
“I think the announcement speaks very clearly to the fact that we’re looking for evidence that can withstand judicial scrutiny against this individual, information that can be used against him to convict him in a court of law,” he told reporters Wednesday.
Saeed’s bounty is one of the highest offered by the reward program, on par with the sum pinned on Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
It comes at a time when U.S.-Pakistan relations are strained and the United States is expected to ratchet up pressure on Islamabad to take action against Saeed, a former professor of Arabic and engineering. He helped found Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a radical Muslim organization that aims to bring about Islamist rule in parts of in India and Pakistan.
The group’s military wing, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, which means army of the pure, is blamed for violence in the disputed territory of Kashmir aimed at liberating Muslims.
After the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba began operating outside Kashmir. It is suspected of carrying out several high-profile attacks in India in the past few years, including one on multiple commuter trains in Mumbai.
The United States labeled Lashkar-e-Tayyiba a “foreign terrorist organization” in December 2001, and under pressure from Washington, Pakistan banned the group in 2002. But it continues to function freely.
In November 2008, terrorists stormed locations throughout Mumbai, killing scores of people and taking hostages. Six American citizens were killed in the carnage.
The Indian government has issued a notice with Interpol against Saeed in relation to his alleged role in the attacks. India accuses him of participating in the training of the gunmen in the Mumbai attack and has charged him in absentia.
Muhammad Yahya Mujahid, the spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, said the U.S. bounty was yet another attack on Islam and Muslims.
“The only thing these American actions will do is create a more passionate hate for America in the hearts of Muslims,” he said.
CNN’s Aliza Kassim, Nasir Habib and Moni Basu contributed to this report.