Mumbai attack 'mastermind' arrested as Imran Khan prepares to meet Donald Trump

Ben Farmer
Hafiz Saeed waves to supporters as he leaves a court in Lahore on November 21, 2017. - AFP

Donald Trump has welcomed the arrest of a cleric accused of masterminding the Mumbai attacks, but faced mockery for saying it took years to find the suspect, when he is notorious for living openly in Pakistan.

Hafiz Saeed was held on suspicion of terrorist financing offences just days before Mr Trump is due to welcome Pakistan's prime minister, Imran Khan, to the White House.

The founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group has a $10m US bounty on his head for his alleged role behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

Saeed has lived openly in Pakistan despite pressure for Islamabad to bring him to justice, and the issue has helped poison relations with Washington and Delhi. While the 69-year-old has spent time under house arrest, he has never been charged or tried.

India officials expressed scepticism that he would face justice now, suggesting the arrest had been made to appease America ahead of Mr Khan's visit to reset acrimonious relations.

"We want real action, not these kinds of steps that are reversible,” an Indian official told Reuters. “One court orders his arrest, another frees him."

He went on: “We have seen this before. After the visit is over, things are usually back to what they were before."

Mr Trump welcomed the arrest. He said: “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!”

Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington said: “Finding him was never an issue. He operated freely and was highly visible. He has been arrested and released many times over.”

Nadim Awan, Saeed's spokesman, denounced the arrest and said the cleric had left Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2001, shortly before its was banned.

Mr Awan said they would challenge Saeed's arrest before a higher court

Pakistan has for decades groomed and harboured militant groups to exert influence on neighbours. It's refusal to stop has angered the international community, but previous crackdowns on jihadists have often been viewed as ineffective or insincere.