U.S. Posts Reward For Leader Of Militant Group

The U.S. is offering a $10 million bounty for the leader of a Pakistani militant group allegedly involved in the 2008 terrorist rampage in the Indian city of Mumbai. The bounty on Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and a popular figure among Pakistani Islamists, is bound to affect the current debate in Pakistan on re-booting relations with Washington.

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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. Ten million dollars. That's what the U.S. will pay for information leading to the capture of the leader of an Islamist group in Pakistan. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed is suspected of organizing the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. Another $2 million reward is posted for his deputy.

As NPR's Jackie Northam reports, the decision to place a bounty on the two men is likely to increase the already strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: U.S. intelligence agencies have had Hafiz Saeed in their crosshairs for years. The 61 year old was the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the largest militant Islamist groups in South Asia. The group has been banned in Pakistan since 2002 and has since operated through its charity wing. But the decision to place a $10 million bounty on Saeed stems from his alleged role as mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, which killed at least 166 people, including six Americans.

Saeed was briefly placed under house arrest, but has been free and able to move around Pakistan for more than three years.

HAFIZ MOHAMMED SAEED: (Foreign language spoken).

NORTHAM: Over the past few months, Saeed has been making fiery speeches at large political rallies like this one in Karachi in early February where he rails against India and the U.S., calling on Islamabad to break ties with Washington.

SAEED: (Foreign language spoken).

NORTHAM: He demands an end to U.S. drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan and he also wants the government to permanently shut down the NATO supply lines to Afghanistan that pass through Pakistani territory.

Brian Katulis, with the Center for American Progress, says there are serious questions why the Pakistani authorities allow Saeed to act with impunity.

BRIAN KATULIS: It's almost farcical that the Pakistanis and the Pakistani authorities have not arrested this individual, despite appeals from a number of countries around the world and despite the arrest warrants from INTERPOL.

NORTHAM: State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland says the bounty on Saeed doesn't have anything to do with his increasing anti-American rhetoric. It's strictly about the Mumbai attacks. She indicated the U.S. may be fed up with Pakistan's inability or unwillingness to go after him.

VICTORIA NULAND: We have continued to impress on the government of Pakistan that we believe it has a special responsibility to fully investigate and bring those responsible to justice.

NORTHAM: The announcement of the bounty on Saeed and his deputy comes at a critical time for U.S.-Pakistan relations. Pakistan's parliament started reviewing the framework for those relations after errant U.S. air strikes killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers in November.

Shyamal Chowdhury(ph), with the Eurasia Group, says she was surprised by news of the bounty because the U.S. had been training carefully so as not to antagonize Pakistan.

SHYAMAL CHOWDHURY: They want to make sure that the relationship goes back to status quo with some resumption of NATO routes, resumption of counter-terrorism cooperation, primarily because the U.S. needs Pakistan's cooperation to withdraw from Afghanistan.

NORTHAM: Chowdhury says Pakistan will view the announcement as the U.S. and India ganging up on it once again. But Katulis, with the Center for American Progress, says the decision to place a bounty on Saeed sends a powerful message that fighting terrorism trumps all, even if it means alienating Pakistan.

KATULIS: Sending this message, I think, at this time is very important because it stresses that there are certain fundamentals that the United States really won't negotiate on when it comes to reframing or renegotiating our bilateral relationship with Pakistan.

NORTHAM: Katulis says putting a bounty on someone like Saeed should help drive home that point. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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