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Washington Asks Islamabad To Arrest Hafiz Saeed

FILE: Hafiz Saeed waves to supporters as he leaves a court in Lahore in October
FILE: Hafiz Saeed waves to supporters as he leaves a court in Lahore in October

The United States has called on Pakistan to arrest and charge an Islamist cleric accused of masterminding the 2008 attacks on India's financial capital.

Pakistani authorities acting on a court order freed Hafiz Saeed on November 24 from nearly 11 months of house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore. The detention had stemmed from the terrorism allegations against the firebrand cleric.

Washington has been offering a $10 million reward since 2012 for information leading to Saeed's arrest and conviction.

A judicial panel hearing the cleric's appeal against his "unlawful" detention Wednesday, however, ordered authorities to free him for lack of evidence.

In a video message released by his Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) Islamist charity, Saeed told supporters his freedom was vindication of his innocence.

"Praise be to God, it is a matter of great happiness for me that nothing has been proven against me which could be detrimental for me or for Pakistan. Thank God, we have been vindicated," the cleric said.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert promptly criticized Saeed's release, saying the U.S. was "deeply concerned." In a statement, she went on to say the cleric leads an organization that has been responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, including a number of Americans.

"The Pakistani government should make sure that he is arrested and charged for his crimes," the statement read.

The U.S. and the United Nations have both declared Saeed's JuD a global terrorist organization, calling it a front for the outlawed Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group blamed for carrying out the Mumbai carnage.

Saeed has consistently denied any link to the Mumbai violence that left 166 people dead, including U.S. nationals. He has also alleged his detention was the outcome of U.S. and Indian pressure on the Pakistani government.

India blames Saeed for masterminding the Mumbai strikes and has linked resumption of normal ties with Pakistan to putting the cleric on trial. New Delhi also alleges supporters of the Pakistani cleric are assisting armed Muslim separatists in the divided Kashmir region.

-- Voice of America