NEW: United States declines offer of aid from Hafiz Mohammad Saeed
U.S. government had offered $10 million for information leading to his capture
He is accused of involvement in the Mumbai attacks in 2008
He denies the allegations and says the Pakistani courts have cleared him
As residents of the U.S. Northeast grapple with the destruction wrought by Superstorm Sandy, an offer of assistance has come from an unlikely quarter: the leader of a radical Muslim group in Pakistan that Washington has branded a terrorist group.
“We offer our unconditional support and help for the victims” of the storm, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, head of the Islamic charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, said in a statement late Tuesday. “If U.S. government allows, we will send our doctors, relief and rescue experts, food and medicine on humanitarian grounds.”
India accuses Saeed of masterminding the 2008 terrorist assault on Mumbai that killed 166 people – an allegation he denies.
The United States, which has declared Jamaat-ud-Dawa a terrorist organization and put up a $10 million reward for information leading to Saeed’s arrest and conviction, declined the offer.
“While we have great respect for Islamic tradition of social assistance to those who are in need no matter where they might be, this particular offer strikes us as very hollow,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Wednesday.
Saeed said in the statement posted on Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s Facebook page Tuesday that despite the bounty and U.S. allegations about his organization, helping Americans struck by adversity is “our religious and moral obligation.”
“Islam orders us to help them without discriminating between religion, cast or creed,” he said in the statement, which was set against the backdrop of an apparently fabricated image of a scuba diver swimming through a submerged Times Square subway station.
His organization said on its Twitter account that it had previously carried out relief efforts following natural disasters in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
The “wanted” notice for Saeed issued by the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program in April described him as a former professor of Arabic and engineering who helped found Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which aims to bring about Islamist rule 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.
The United States labeled it a “foreign terrorist organization” in December 2001, and under pressure from Washington, Pakistan banned it in 2002. But the group continues to function freely.
After the U.S. government announced the reward for his capture in April, Saeed appeared on Pakistani television and seemed unruffled by the move.
“I am living my life in the open and the U.S. can contact me whenever they want,” he said.
Saeed said the Pakistani Supreme Court had cleared him and his organization of wrongdoing in relation to the Mumbai attacks in which gunmen stormed locations throughout Mumbai, killing scores of people and taking hostages. Six American citizens were killed in the carnage.
“The U.S. government is listening to the Indian lobby and not making its own decisions,” Saeed said regarding the allegations against him. He condemned the Mumbai attacks.
Pakistani authorities have refused to take him into custody, saying they haven’t received “concrete evidence” against him.
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.
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.