NEW DELHI (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump faced criticism for saying Pakistan’s arrest of the alleged mastermind of the 2008 attacks on Mumbai had come after a 10-year search, as the suspected militant had been living in plain view.
Pakistani authorities on Wednesday arrested Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group that is accused by India and the United States of carrying out the Mumbai attacks, on terrorism financing charges.
More than 160 people were killed in the four-day militant attacks. Saeed is designated a terrorist by the United States and the United Nations.
Trump, who is due to host Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for talks at the White House next week, welcomed Saeed’s arrest and said it was the result of pressure from his administration on Pakistan to get tougher on militants.
“After a ten year search, the so-called “mastermind” of the Mumbai Terror attacks has been arrested in Pakistan. Great pressure has been exerted over the last two years to find him!,” Trump tweeted.
But Saeed has been in and out of Pakistan prisons for the last decade and even addressed public rallies.
The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee countered Trump’s comments with a tweet of its listing the eight times Saeed had been arrested and freed by Pakistan authorities since 2001.
“FYI Pakistan wasn’t searching for him for 10 years. He’s been living freely..” it said and suggested Trump hold the applause till Saeed is convicted by Pakistani authorities.
Former Pakistan ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani said Trump had been ill-advised about Saeed’s case.
“Finding him was never an issue. He operated freely and was highly visible. He has been arrested and released many times over. @POTUS shd immediately fire whoever gave him the wrong information,” he said in a tweet, referring to Trump.
Pakistan said Saeed was arrested while he was going to a court to seek pre-arrest bail.
Saeed has denied any involvement and Pakistani authorities say they have not found any evidence against him either.
India says Pakistan’s failure to act against the suspected militant is one of the reasons it won’t resume peace talks with the arch rival.
Christian Fair, a South Asia specialist at Georgetown University, said Trump was also wrong to describe Saeed as the “so-called mastermind” of the Mumbai attacks. “@POTUS shows AGAIN that he’s a complete dumbass,” said Fair.
Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Michael Perry