ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a Pakistani hard-line cleric with a $10-million bounty placed on him by the U.S. because of his alleged links to militancy, says he wants to help Americans on the East Coast broadsided by Hurricane Sandy.
Saeed, who founded the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba in the 1980s and now heads up its social welfare wing, Jamaat ud-Dawa, issued a statement Tuesday saying his charity was prepared to provide doctors, rescue experts, food and medicine to victims of the storm, which has ravaged the East Coast and left millions without power.
“Regardless of what the U.S. government propagates about us, including their announcement of bounties, we look forward to acting on the traits of our prophet Muhammad ... and serving adversity-struck American people,” Saeed said in a statement posted on Jamaat ud-Dawa’s Facebook page.
Earlier this year, the U.S. announced a reward of $10 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Saeed, widely viewed in the West and in India as the alleged mastermind behind the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people.
The U.S. and India have long regarded Jamaat ud-Dawa as a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba’s militant activities. In 2008, the U.S. and the United Nations declared Jamaat ud-Dawa as a terrorist organization, a label the Americans gave to Lashkar-e-Taiba, which it links to Al Qaeda, in 2001.
Saeed formed Lashkar-e-Taiba with the help of the Pakistan’s main spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, to fight Indian rule in a portion of the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The U.S. and other Western governments are concerned that the militant group has broadened its agenda to include Western targets.
Despite Washington’s announcement of a bounty on Saeed, Pakistani authorities have refused to take him into custody, contending they have no evidence to build a case against him.
Saeed has strongly denied maintaining links with any Pakistani militant group, saying Jamaat ud-Dawa focuses solely on humanitarian work and has no relationship with Lashkar-e-Taiba or any other extremist organization. His offer is likely to be viewed in Washington as a public relations stunt.
“We consider this a humanitarian issue,” Saeed said in the statement. “Wherever and whenever humanity is at stake and needs urgent help, Islam orders us to help them without discriminating between religion, caste or creed.”
Photo: Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, addresses demonstrators at a protest in Lahore on Sept. 30 against an anti-Islam movie made in California. Credit: Arif Ali / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images