Hafiz Saeed case: Pakistan detains Mumbai attacks suspect

Hafiz Saeed speaks to the press after being detained by police in Lahore, early on January 31, 2017. Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Hafiz Saeed speaks to the press as police detain him in Lahore

Pakistani officials have ordered the detention of a firebrand cleric linked to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks which killed 166 people.

Hafiz Saeed - who led the banned Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT) militant group and has a $10m (£5.8m) US bounty on his head - is under house arrest in Lahore.

His supporters protested in several Pakistani cities. He has repeatedly denied involvement in the attacks.

But India and the US say he helped plan the shooting and bombing massacre.

A spokesman for Mr Saeed claimed the Pakistani government had been pressured by the US to act against him.

There were small protests in response to his detention in cities including Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad.

Mr Saeed heads Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a Pakistani charity group which India and the US say is a front for the LeT. It is listed as a terror outfit by the United Nations, and was put on a Pakistani terror watch list in 2015.

The cleric was taken by police from a mosque in Lahore on Monday and escorted to his residence to be placed under house arrest.

Four JuD members have also been placed in "preventative detention", according to an order by the interior ministry.

Tensions over Mumbai massacre

The Islamist leader's free movement in Pakistan has been a source of tension between Islamabad and Delhi for years, but it is unclear why the authorities decided to move against him now.

He was put under house arrest in 2008 after the bloodshed in Mumbai, but released about six months later. Pakistan maintained there was not enough evidence to put him on trial or hand him over to India.

The Mumbai carnage played out on live television as commandos battled the heavily armed attackers, who arrived by sea on the evening of 26 November, 2008.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Hafiz Saeed is under house arrest at his residence in Lahore, guarded by police
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Lashkar-e-Taiba is blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai but has not admitted involvement

The 10 gunmen killed commuters, tourists, and some of India's wealthy elite in a rampage that included attacks on two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre, and a train station.

It took the authorities three days to regain full control of the city.

Delhi believes there is evidence that "official agencies" in Pakistan were involved in plotting the attack - a charge Islamabad denies.

Another alleged LeT leader, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, was also accused of masterminding the attack. He was arrested in 2008 after India named him as a suspect but Pakistan freed him on bail in 2015.

Meaningful change? By Haroon Rashid, BBC Urdu editor in Islamabad

Pakistan's government has promised it will clarify what led to the house arrest of Hafiz Saeed and four other colleagues.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said action had been initiated as a follow-up to the United Nations restrictions imposed in 2008. He said the government had failed to take measures then, but was acting now. But it is not clear what prompted the change.

Hafiz Saeed had his own explanation. "The orders have come via India and the US. Pakistan has its own limitations," he said.

Many in Islamabad believe the change in US administration might have forced Pakistan's hand. US President Donald Trump has not yet made his policy on Pakistan clear. It could be this unpredictability and Mr Trump's trait of aggressive decision-making that has sent a chill down the Pakistani establishment's spine.

Hafiz Saeed has been detained and released in the past. But many in Pakistan hope this might be a meaningful change and not a re-run of an old movie that we all have watched before.

Despite the bounty against him, Mr Saeed has led a high-profile public life in Pakistan, regularly delivering fierce anti-India speeches.

In a 2014 interview with the BBC, Mr Saeed said the US was only targeting his organisation to win India's help in Afghanistan.

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Media captionHafiz Saeed told the BBC in 2014 the US was unfairly targeting him

News of the cleric's detention surfaced hours after Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar hinted at an imminent crackdown.

He told reporters in Islamabad that Pakistan is "under obligation to take some action" as JuD is blacklisted internationally and has been under observation for years.

A senior Pakistani defence ministry official told Reuters that Islamabad had not heard anything from President Trump's administration, but had been feeling US pressure over the terror suspect.

"Trump is taking hard decisions against Muslim countries, there is open talk of actions against Pakistan also. So yes, this was a consideration," said the official.

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