Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS
Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS

Islamabad — Pakistanis on Thursday mocked US President Donald Trump’s claim that the alleged Mumbai attacks mastermind had been arrested “after a 10-year search” while he was actually in the public eye for much of the decade.

Hafiz Saeed, a firebrand cleric accused by Washington and New Delhi of being behind the 2008 attacks, was taken into custody on Wednesday, days ahead of a trip by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to Washington for his first meeting with Trump.

“After a 10-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 on Wednesday.

But Saeed, who heads the UN-designated terrorist group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and has a $10m US bounty on his head, has never been missing.

Instead, when he has not been in the custody of the Pakistani authorities, he has courted the limelight, giving public speeches and televised interviews and even attempting to launch a political party to contest the 2018 general election.

Among the wave of social media users pointing this out to Trump were journalists highlighting the easy access they have been given to Saeed over the years.

“It’s Hafiz Saeed. Not Jason Bourne,” tweeted Pakistani news anchor Amber Shamsi.

“I also interviewed Hafiz Muhammad Saeed for @AJEnglish back in 2015 at a JuD-run mosque and school in Islamabad. Did not take a lot of finding that time, either,” added Al Jazeera's Islamabad-based correspondent Asad Hashim.

“Finding him was never an issue. He operated freely and was highly visible,” wrote Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani, adding that Trump should “immediately fire whoever gave him the wrong information”.

The US foreign affairs committee also hit back at the president, citing the eight times Saeed has been arrested — and released — by Pakistani authorities since 2001.

“Let’s hold the (applause) until he’s convicted,” tweeted the committee on its official account.

Saeed’s freedom to move around Pakistan has enraged India for years, with Delhi repeatedly calling for his prosecution over his alleged role in the 2008 attack that killed more than 160 people.

Many linked his latest detention to Khan’s visit with Trump. The pair are to meet in Washington on July 22.

Since taking office in 2017, Trump has frequently singled out Islamabad for failing to rein in extremists and being an unfaithful partner in the fight against militants.

“Hafiz Saeed was definitely not on the run when I met him at home in Lahore in 2013. His liberty, or lack of, is often a function of international pressure on Pakistan over its support for militancy,” tweeted New York Times correspondent Declan Walsh.

The move against Saeed also comes as Pakistan is facing a potential blacklisting by the financial action task force, an anti-money-laundering monitor based in Paris, for failing to do enough to combat terror financing.

AFP