President Donald Trump on Wednesday congratulated Pakistan on the arrest of Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist organization and alleged mastermind of the brutal 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed 164 people.
After a ten year search, the so-called “mastermind” of the Mumbai Terror attacks has been arrested in Pakistan. Great pressure has been exerted over the last two years to find him!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2019
Pakistani authorities say Saeed was arrested in Punjab province on Wednesday and has already made his first appearance before a judge.
“The main charge is that he is gathering funds for banned outfits, which is illegal,” a spokesman for the governor of Punjab said. Saeed was not captured after a massive manhunt; he was reportedly on his way to arrange bail for one of several terrorism financing charges when he was taken into custody. He has not been a hunted fugitive. He is a common sight at political rallies in Pakistan and runs an organization that boasts over 300 Islamic schools, hospitals, and a publishing house.
The Mumbai attack of 2008 was a savage assault with guns, grenades, and knives that spanned four days and included grueling sieges at multiple tourist locations. The attack was dramatized in the 2018 film Hotel Mumbai, which depicted heroic efforts by staff at the Taj Hotel to protect guests from the terrorist murderers.
Saeed was briefly placed under house arrest in Pakistan for his connection with the attack in 2017 but cleared of the charges and released later that year, a development that “deeply concerned” the U.S. government.
“Critics of Pakistan’s government said [Saeed’s] arrest on Wednesday was yet another superficial tactic to placate the United States and others who have grown frustrated with Pakistan’s halfhearted efforts to crack down on militant groups,” the New York Times reported on Wednesday, noting there are already calls on Pakistani social media to release him.
The Times saw the timing of Saeed’s arrest as politically significant because Pakistani President Imran Khan is due to visit Washington next week for a meeting with President Trump, who has been outspokenly skeptical of Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism. The most cynical view of Pakistan’s position holds that its economy has weakened so much that it can no longer hold out against U.S. demands to do more against extremist groups.
Many of those cynical observers can be found in India, which remains unconvinced Saeed or any other top leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba will be held accountable for the Mumbai attack.
“We want real action, not these kinds of steps that are reversible. One court orders his arrest, another frees him,” an Indian official complained on Wednesday after Saeed was taken into custody.
Lashkar-e-Taiba’s stated goal is to drive India out of the Kashmir region, whose control is vigorously and sometimes violently disputed between India and Pakistan. The group wants to build an Islamic State-style “caliphate” across Kashmir and bordering sections of both Pakistan and India. It has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States since shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Saeed himself is considered a “specially designated global terrorist” by the U.S., which has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest since 2012.