Pakistan arrests radical cleric terror suspect in Mumbai attacks

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MULTAN, Pakistan, July 17, (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. 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.

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 militant groups through charities and leading to Wednesday’s arrest. Prime Minister Imran 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. Saeed’s spokesman Nadim Awan denounced the arrest and said the cleric had dissociated himself from Lashkere- 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

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