President Donald Trump praised the “great pressure” exerted to arrest a radical cleric and U.S.-wanted terror suspect blamed for 2008 attacks in India’s largest city that killed 166 people, including six Americans.
Pakistani authorities took Hafiz Saeed into custody in Punjab province on Wednesday while he was traveling from the eastern city of Lahore to the city of Gujranwala, according to counterterrorism official Mohammad Shafiq.
Saeed founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which was blamed for the Mumbai attacks in 2008. The U.S. had offered $10 million for Saeed’s arrest late last year and Washington recently stepped up pressure on Islamabad to crack down on terror groups.
“After a ten year search, the so-called ‘mastermind’ of the Mumbai Terror attacks has been arrested in Pakistan,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “Great pressure has been exerted over the last two years to find him!”
The arrest comes just days ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan's trip to Washington where he is set to meet with Trump.
After the U.S. reward offer, Pakistan registered over a dozen cases against Saeed and several of his associates, accusing them of funding military groups through their charity organizations.
The two Saeed charities were banned in February last year, and the government froze their assets in compliance with a U.S. request. Pakistan's Supreme Court last September allowed them to resume operations only to be banned again earlier this year under a government action plan against terrorism and extremism.
After his arrest, Saeed was taken before a judge and was ordered held in jail until the next hearing on Tuesday, Shafiq said. The cleric had been en route to Gujranwala to post bail in the terror-financing case but was detained before he could do so.
In Pakistan, a suspect can be free on bail pending investigation and trial.
Saeed's spokesman Nadim Awan denounced the arrest and said the cleric had dissociated himself from Lashker-e-Taiba in 2001 and has had no links with the organization since then. Lashker-e-Taiba was banned in 2002.
Previously, Saeed had been detained several times, along with some of his close aides, but had not been charged or put on trial.
He was taken into custody in January last year and kept under house arrest for 11 months until a court order ended his detention in November. He was also detained in 2001 and 2008, when he was kept confined to a government-run house and at his home.
In recent months, the government also took over schools, mosques, seminaries and all properties linked to Saeed's charities and froze their assets.
Pakistan is currently on the Financial Action Task Force's grey list, denoting its status as a haven for money laundering. It has until October to avoid blacklisting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.