Hafiz Saeed may be high on the United States’ most-wanted list with a $10m bounty, but reports suggest he had been roaming free in Pakistan, addressing large rallies until recently.
Despite an order banning his entry into the capital Islamabad, Saeed on March 28 addressed a crowd of Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a group of 44 political and Islamist parties vocally opposing US presence in the region.
This was Saeed’s second successful rally in the capital in as many months, avoiding “a game of cat and mouse with the Islamabad police,” Dawn, Pakistan’s leading newspaper said.
“They appeared and disappeared; were stopped and freed; intercepted in their cars and protected by their armed guards, as crowds gathered to watch the spectacle and traffic jams ensued.”
The council is against resumption of NATO supplies for foreign troops in neighbouring Afghanistan through Pakistan and has threatened a siege of the parliament if supplies are resumed.
Dawn called the council “jihadists, sectarian warriors, orthodox mullahs, Islamic revivalists, all banding together under the banner”.
On December 20, Saeed addressed another rally of between 40,000 to 70,000 in Lahore.
“We will hold a march towards the capital if the government does not revoke agreements of co-operation in the war against terror with the US,” Saeed told the rally, reportedly guarded by 3,000 activists from the council and 1,000 police officers.
Saeed was briefly held under house arrest in 2008, after the UN banned his Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, believed to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba – designated by the US as a “terrorist organisation” in 2001. He was freed months later, as a Lahore court found his detention unconstitutional.
Born in 1950 in Punjab province, Saeed is a former lecturer at Lahore University.
He founded Lashkar-e-Taiba in the mid-1990s, whose activities were mostly focused on India in regards to the conflict in Kashmir.
Saeed has also proudly declared that he and al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahri had the same teacher.