Hard evidence that Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed was communicating with Osama bin Laden through a courier led Washington to put a $10-million (Rs 50-crore) bounty on Saeed’s head.
The evidence also points to the then al Qaeda chief, Bin Laden, having played a key role in the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people and injured more than 300.
All this was unearthed by US Special Forces last May when they killed Bin Laden in his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and took back bagfuls of his documents and computer equipment.
Bruce Riedel, Pakistan terrorism expert and former AfPak advisor to US President Barack Obama, told HT, “The documents and files found in Abbottabad showed a close connection between Bin Laden and Saeed, right up to May 2011.”
Home minister P Chidambaram welcomed the bounty and said it might make Islamabad take action against Saeed, the mastermind of the 26/11 attacks.
He lashed out at Pakistan for refusing to take action against Saeed, calling the present 26/11 court case a “farce”. He said, “We have consistently pressed for his arrest and interrogation. Pakistan was in denial mode and continues to be in denial mode.”
Slamming the US, Saeed told Al-Jazeera: “We are not hiding in caves for bounties to be set on finding us. I think the US is frustrated because we are taking out countrywide protests against the resumption of Nato supplies and drone strikes.”
Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik refused to comment, saying, “I have learnt from the media about the bounty. We have not received any official communication from the US or any other quarter.”
Malik said he had requested the foreign ministry to verify the report.
Riedel said the Abbottabad information also “suggested a much larger direct al-Qaeda role in the planning of the Mumbai attacks than many assumed.”
He said the US now has evidence that Bin Laden may have seen the reconnaissance reports of David Headley, Lashkar’s scout for the 26/11 attacks.
Indian experts on Lashkar, pointing out the relationship between the terror outfit and al-Qaeda has been known for years, presumed that the US had additional motives when it suddenly announced the bounty under its Rewards for Justice programme on Monday.
RAW’s former deputy director Rana Banerjee said Saeed has been assuming a larger profile in Pakistan, preparing the ground for a political career. “The US is forcing him underground. It has silenced him for a while,” he said.
Documentation on Lashkar’s ties with al-Qaeda would also explain the $2-million bounty on Adbul Rahman Makki, Lashkar’s financial secretary. Makki, said Banerjee, is the only person Saeed trusts with funds and was the liaison for Lashkar’s global tie-ups.
Lashkar has also attracted US anger, said analyst Wilson John, author of Caliphate’s Soldiers: The Lashkar-e-Tayebba’s Long War, by openly helping militants fighting US troops in Afghanistan.
“Members of the Haqqani network have trained at Lashkar camps,” he said. And so have so-called “white jihadis” – Western-based recruits trained to carry out attacks on Western countries.
Riedel said the bounty decisions are “a recognition that Lashkar-e- Taiba and Saeed are a real threat to both the US and India.” He expects Saeed to use the US announcement to increase his standing as “a symbol of his power in the global jihad”. But Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence will be unhappy as Saeed “is their man”.
(With inputs from Islamabad, Delhi)