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Trump Criticized For Tweet Hailing Pakistan's '10-Year' Search For Alleged Mastermind Of Mumbai Attack

FILE: Hafiz Saeed waves to supporters as he leaves a court in Lahore in November 2017.
FILE: Hafiz Saeed waves to supporters as he leaves a court in Lahore in November 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump has faced criticism for saying Pakistan's arrest of the alleged mastermind of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai had come after a 10-year search, as the suspected militant had been living freely.

Pakistani authorities said on July 17 that they arrested Hafiz Saeed, the radical Islamist leader accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

Saeed's arrest came a day before Prime Minister Imran Khan was set to hold meetings with U.S. officials in Washington, D.C. Khan has pledged to crack down on militant groups.

Trump 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 Pakistani prisons for years and even addressed public rallies.

The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee countered Trump's comments with a tweet, saying that "Pakistan wasn't searching for him for 10 years" and Saeed had been "living freely" and had been arrested and released eight times since 2001.

Pakistan's former 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.

Shahbaz Gill, a spokesman for governor of Punjab Province, said on July 17 that Saeed was arrested near the central Pakistani town of Gujranwala and charged with "gathering funds for banned outfits."

U.S. and Indian officials have accused Saeed of helping plan the Mumbai attacks in which 10 gunmen rampaged through India's largest city, shooting up two luxury hotels, a Jewish center, and a train station during a siege that lasted several days.

India accused Pakistan of helping organize the attacks in cooperation with Saeed, who is head of the Jamaat-ud Dawa charity. U.S. officials say the group is a front for the banned Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e Taiba.

Pakistan and Jamaat-ud Dawa have denied involvement in the Mumbai attack.

The United States has designated Saeed a terrorist and offered $10 million for information leading to his arrest and conviction.

The United States has long accused Pakistan of providing "havens" for militant groups fighting in India and Afghanistan, and Trump has cut financial and military aid to Islamabad.

After the arrest, Alice Wells, the U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for South Asia, wrote on Twitter that a "full and expeditious prosecution for his involvement in numerous acts of terror, such as the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans, is necessary."

"The victims of terrorist attacks deserve justice," she added.

Khan will be accompanied to Washington by Pakistani Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, the head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the military's spy wing.

The all-powerful army has an oversized role in the domestic and foreign affairs of the South Asian country, and has long been accused of using the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups as proxies in neighboring Afghanistan and India.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

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