Pakistan arrests US-wanted terror suspect in Mumbai attacks
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Pakistan arrests US-wanted terror suspect in Mumbai attacks

Hafiz Saeed founded group blamed for coordinated assault that killed 166 people, including six at local Chabad house

Hafiz Saeed, founder of Pakistani religious group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, addresses an anti-Indian rally in Lahore, Pakistan, October 26, 2018. (K.M. Chaudary/AP)
Hafiz Saeed, founder of Pakistani religious group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, addresses an anti-Indian rally in Lahore, Pakistan, October 26, 2018. (K.M. Chaudary/AP)

Pakistan on Wednesday arrested a radical cleric and US-wanted terror suspect implicated in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, officials said, just days ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trip to Washington.

Hafiz Saeed was taken into custody in Punjab province while traveling from the eastern city of Lahore to the city of Gujranwala, according to counter-terrorism official Mohammad Shafiq.

The coordinated attacks on the city of nearly 20 million people hit luxury hotels, the main railway station, a restaurant popular with tourists and the city’s Chabad center, where six Israelis were killed.

Saeed founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which was blamed for the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. His charity organizations, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat, are alleged fronts for Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Indian commandos prepare to storm the Nariman House in Mumbai during the 2008 terror attacks. (photo credit: Youtube screen capture)
Indian commandos prepare to storm the Nariman Chabad House in Mumbai during the 2008 terror attacks. (photo credit: Youtube screen capture)

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 terror groups through charities and leading to Wednesday’s arrest.

Israel has also called on Pakistan to hold accountable the terrorists responsible for the deadly attacks in Mumbai.

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.

Hafiz Saeed, founder of Pakistani religious group Jamaat-ud-Dawa addresses an anti-Indian rally in Lahore, Pakistan, October 26, 2018. (K.M. Chaudary/AP)

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 blacklisting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, listens as Moshe Holtzberg, center, unveils plans for a state-of-the-art Living Memorial in commemoration of the victims of the Mumbai attacks at the Chabad House in Mumbai, India, Thursday, Jan 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Among those killed by gunmen at the Nariman Chabad House in Mumbai in 2008 were Rabbi Gavriel and his wife Rivka Holtzberg. Their son Moshe, two years old at the time, was rescued on the day of the attack by the family’s nanny, Sandra Samuel, who ran out of the Chabad House carrying him. She later accompanied him to Israel, where he now lives with his grandparents.

Moshe Holtzberg returned to the site of the attack for the first time in 2018, accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during an official visit to India by the Israeli leader.

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