Pakistan arrests head of group linked to Mumbai killings

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 11, 2008 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan arrested Islamic militant leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed on Thursday and closed the offices of his organization, which is accused of being a front for the terrorists who carried out last month's attack in Mumbai, India.

The official crackdown on extremist groups widened as security authorities issued warrants for the detention of eight leaders of Jamaat ud Dawa, sealed several of its offices across the country and froze Pakistani bank accounts associated with the group, officials said. The move risks a violent backlash, but may help to ease the enormous international pressure on Islamabad to clamp down on the militant groups it's long tolerated or supported.

"The government has decided to proscribe Jamaat ud Dawa," Information Minister Sherry Rehman said.

Pakistani authorities were reacting to a United Nations Security Council decision late Wednesday to put Jamaat ud Dawa on a terrorist list along with Saeed and three other members. The group has claimed that it's an Islamic charity unrelated to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant organization that India and the United States blame for the Mumbai carnage, but the U.N. dismisses this as a ruse.

Moving after the U.N. ban, rather than on the Indian demands alone, allows Islamabad to say that it isn't succumbing to pressure from arch-enemy India. Islamabad already has made it clear that it won't hand over any suspects to India, trying them instead in Pakistan.

Saeed was placed under house arrest hours after he gave a news conference in which he lashed out at the U.N. sanctions on his group and him.

"This (U.N. announcement) is an attack on Pakistan, on Islam and on religious organizations," Saeed said at the Jamaat ud Dawa office in Lahore earlier in the day. "We cannot accept something done on the basis of Indian propaganda."

Saeed left Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group he founded in 1990, just days before Pakistan banned it in 2002, though he now says that he was never part of it. India has said that the Mumbai assault was planned in Pakistan and that all 10 gunmen came from Pakistan, but it's been careful not to implicate the Pakistani government.

Saeed said that Jamaat ud Dawa wasn't involved in terrorism and opposed suicide bombings. He said that he was "willing to go before any court to prove we are innocent" and he'd be writing to the U.N. in protest.

Until now, Jamaat ud Dawa was legal in Pakistan, but it's widely considered to be a facade for Lashkar-e-Taiba. Indian news reports, based on leaks from the Mumbai police investigation, said that Saeed had given the attackers "motivational" talks.

Saeed was confined to his home in Lahore, according to his group's spokesman Abdullah Murtaza, and police cordoned off the area. Television news reports showed police locking up several Jamaat ud Dawa offices but it was unclear what had happened at the group's campus at Muridke, outside Lahore.

"India is using the Mumbai incident to launch a propaganda onslaught against Pakistan," charged Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst based in Lahore. "India feels the international community is with it at this time."

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the Pakistani foreign minister, said Thursday that Pakistan wouldn't let its territory be used for terrorism.

He added, however: "Our own investigations cannot proceed beyond a certain point without provision of credible information and evidence pertaining to the Mumbai attacks. Despite our requests, no evidence or information has been shared with the government by India so far."

Earlier this week, Pakistan arrested some 20 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba itself, including a supposed mastermind of the Mumbai attack. India continues to increase the demands on Pakistan. New Delhi said Thursday that it now had given Pakistan a list of 40 wanted people.

"We have, so far, acted with utmost restraint," Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, told an angry session of parliament. "But let not our commitment to civilized norms be misconstrued as a sign of weakness.

India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, fended off demands in parliament for military action, and said that launching a war with Pakistan was "no solution."

Privately, Indian officials who couldn't be named as they weren't authorized to speak to journalists said that they wouldn't be satisfied until Lashkar-e-Taiba and kindred India-focused militant groups had been destroyed. They said they were sharing intelligence on the Mumbai attack with Washington, as they didn't trust Islamabad with the information.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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