The bounty offer misses the mark. The Pakistani refusal to prosecute Hafiz Saeed and dismantle his organization is not because of a lack of evidence.
The U.S. is now offering $10 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Hafiz Saeed, left, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) terrorist group most famous for its 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people, including 6 Americans. His response was to hold a public press conference and crack jokes while Pakistani officials again lashed out at the U.S.
After the bounty was announced, Saeed held an event across from the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi, only about 40 minutes from the U.S. embassy in the capital. He has operated openly in Pakistan since his house arrest ended in 2009, during which he still preached to thousands.
Saeed defiantly said, “I am here. I am visible” and joked
that “America should give that reward money
to me.” He announced that he’d be in Lahore the next day if the U.S. wishes to come get him.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner clarified that the U.S. bounty was different from the one that was placed on Bin Laden. The problem isn’t finding him. “We all know where is…every journalist in Pakistan knows where he is,” Toner explained. The award is for information that can “give the Pakistani government the tools to arrest him” so his “brazen flouting of the justice system” comes to an end.
I’m not sure what the State Department was thinking in announcing the award, unless it was just done to please India. If the Pakistani government wanted to arrest him, it would have by now. The problem isn’t a lack of incriminating information; it’s a lack of will. My best guess is that the U.S. is hoping that it’ll force him to hide in the shadows and that’ll make it more difficult for him to operate. And maybe, just maybe, a Pakistani will come forward with some sort of smoking gun that convinces the Pakistani government to prosecute him.
So now, by placing an award on him that is equal to what is offered for Mullah
Omar and second only to Ayman al-Zawahiri, he is now a symbol of American weakness and LET strength. After all, the U.S. admits that he knows where he is and isn’t doing much about it. In his Friday sermon after the announcement of the award, Saeed pointed this out, saying
“They [the U.S.] are even scared of my name.”
The LET symbol, right, includes a black AK-47 rifle that extends from an open, green Qur’an. Above the rifle is a Quranic phrase that reads, in Arabic, “And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.”
The LET is a group that deserves our utmost attention. One expert writes
, “After Al-Qaeda, LET is the most dangerous terrorist group operating in South Asia.” One Pakistani intelligence officer told
the New York Times
that LET has around 150,000 members and if it turned on Pakistan, the country would go “up in flames.”
The LET has popularity and infrastructure that dwarfs that of Al-Qaeda. In 2008, LET said
it owns over 200 schools. It says about 30 of these are madrasses that accommodate about 2,900 students
in total. It has hospitals, charities, blood banks, an ambulance service, various other social services, a monthly journal and a newspaper.
Though it was originally created as a Pakistani proxy to fight in Kashmir, its focus has broadened. In 2003, Saeed said that Muslims must wage jihad
against the “evil trio” of the U.S., India and Israel. The group proclaims
its desire to “plant a flag” in Washington D.C. and Tel Aviv. It trains fighters and dispatches them to Afghanistan
and it has close ties to Al-Qaeda. On April 6, Saeed said
Muslims should fight America and “the time to fight has come.”
It is a major contributor to the increasing threat of homegrown terrorism. The Investigative Project on Terrorism calls
LET a “magnet for American jihadists.” It has an English-language magazine
named the Voice of Islam. Whereas Al-Qaeda’s ranks
are decreasing, LET’s strength is increasing and its networks in the U.S. and Europe are growing.
“’Homegrown’ terrorist cells
at ‘real’ terror training camps frequently end up at either facilities run by LET or JEM [Jaish-e-Mohammed]. JEM is essentially seen as an equal substitute for LET if the latter is unavailable,” explains
terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann.
The “shoebomber” Richard Reid was trained in an LET camp. The famous “Virginia Paintball Jihad Network” busted by authorities in 2003 was closely tied to the LET. An American named David
Coleman Headley participated in the LET’s 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car
bomb in Times Square in 2010, met with an LET member in Pakistan. The Investigative Project on Terrorism’s dossier
has a long list of additional cases.
Ali Al-Timimi, left, thought to be the spiritual leader of the Virginia Paintball Jihad Network, a group of 11 men indicted for crimes related to terrorism. Al-Timimi was convicted in 2005 of soliciting and engaging others to levy war against the United States and attempting to contribute services to the Taliban. Members of the Virginia Paintball Jihad cell testified at Al-Timimi's trial that shortly after September 11, 2001 he convinced several of them to travel to Pakistan to obtain training for jihad from the LET. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 70 years without parole.
There’s no reason to believe that this bounty will change anything because the real problem is the Pakistani government. In 2002, Pakistan banned LET. The group simply changed its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa
and it was business
as usual. After the Mumbai attacks, Jamaat-ud-Dawa was banned. The group, for the most part, didn’t even need to bother changing its name. In some cases, it operates under the name of a charity, Falah-e-Insaniat, with little disguise.
The bounty on Saeed misses the mark. The Pakistani refusal to prosecute him and dismantle LET is not because of a lack of evidence.
Ryan Mauro is a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel.
This article appeared originally on FamilySecurityMatters.org