The terror leader blamed for a 2008 massacre that killed nearly 200 people taunted the U.S. government at a press conference today, saying that if anyone wants to collect the $10 million bounty on his head he will be in Lahore, Pakistan tomorrow.
"I am here, I am visible," said Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder of the Pakistani-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the U.S. and India blames for the 2008 Mumbai massacre. "America should give that reward money to me."
"I will be in Lahore tomorrow. America can contact me whenever it wants to," said Saeed. He also expressed surprise that the U.S. did not know where he was, offered to face charges in an American court, and said America had "gone blind" because of its hatred of Islam.
The U.S. placed a $10 million bounty on Saeed's head Monday, and also offered up to $2 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Saeed's brother-in-law, who is the deputy leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Saeed, who allegedly has support within Pakistan's intelligence community, has maintained a high public profile inside Pakistan. The State Department said Tuesday that the bounty has "everything to do with Mumbai and his brazen flouting of the justice system."
State Department spokesman Mark Toner reacted to Saeed's taunts Wednesday by stressing that the reward was for information leading to his arrest or conviction, not his location. "We all know where he is," said Toner. "Every journalist in Pakistan knows where he is." Toner said it was unfortunate that Saeed was free to give press conferences, but that the U.S. hopes "to put him behind bars" and is seeking information that would "give the Pakistani government the tools to arrest him."
The reward offer, placed on the State Department's Rewards for Justice website late Monday, says Saeed "is suspected of masterminding numerous terrorist attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks." Ten gunmen took part in the multi-day assault, which took the lives of more than 170 people, including six Americans. The lone surviving attacker, who faces a death penalty, has accused Saeed of hatching the plot. The award makes Saeed the second most-wanted on the U.S. terror list; al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is worth a $25 million reward.
Pakistan had kept Saeed under house arrest after the attacks for some months but then released him. Saeed founded Lashkar-e-Taiba more than 25 years ago and has mounted many attacks against India as part of a campaign to wrest the Kashmir region from Indian control. Though Pakistan has officially banned LET, as the group is often known, Saeed continues to operate its charity wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawaa.