ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — The Palestinians have withdrawn their envoy to Pakistan after he appeared at a rally with a radical cleric linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Palestinian envoy Walid Abu Ali shared the stage with Hafiz Saeed, the head of the hard-line Jamaat-ud-Dawa movement, at Friday’s rally, which was held to protest US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The rally in Rawalpindi, attended by thousands, was organized by the Defense of Pakistan Council, an alliance of religious parties dominated by Saeed’s group. Jamaat-ud-Dawa is believed to be a front for Lashker-e-Taiba, a group that fights Indian troops in the disputed region of Kashmir, and which was blamed for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, including Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg.
Saeed, the founder of Lashker-e-Taiba, is wanted by the United States, which has offered a $10 million reward for his arrest, but Pakistan has refused extradition requests and allows him to operate relatively freely. He was recently placed under house arrest for 11 months but was released after a court ruled in his favor.
Saeed denies involvement in the 2008 attacks, and Pakistan says India has not provided enough evidence to charge him. US officials have long accused Pakistan of harboring extremists, allegations denied by Islamabad.
In a statement Saturday addressed to India, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the envoy’s participation “in the presence of individuals accused of supporting terrorism” was “an unintended mistake, but not justified.” It said the envoy has been recalled.
India had lodged a protest with the Palestinians earlier Saturday, calling the envoy’s association with Saeed “unacceptable.”
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry defended the envoy, saying it welcomed his “active participation in events organized to express solidarity with the people of Palestine.”
Near-daily rallies have been held in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital earlier this month, a move seen by Palestinians as siding with the Jewish state against them. Trump said the move was merely an acknowledgement of reality, and made clear he wasn’t prejudging the geopolitical contours of the contested city.