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Pakistan Lashkar-e-Taiba founder condemns US bounty

The founder of Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has described a $10m (£6.2m) bounty on his head - announced by the US on Tuesday - as "regrettable and misdirected".

In an interview with the Associated Press news agency, Hafiz Saeed said that such rewards "are usually for those who live in caves and mountains".

Mr Saeed travels widely in Pakistan from his base in the city of Lahore.

He now heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) group, widely seen as a LeT front.

LeT is blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India. The three-day rampage by 10 gunmen in November 2008 left 165 people dead. Nine of the attackers were also killed.

Local media on Wednesday quoted Pakistan interior ministry sources as saying that the government cannot proceed against Mr Saeed without "hard and undeniable evidence that can withstand judicial scrutiny".

He has consistently denied any suggestion that either he or JuD - which he says is a charity - played any role in militant violence.

Pakistan arrested LeT's senior leaders after the Mumbai attacks. But most of them, including Mr Saeed, were later freed on appeal.

'Regrettable'

In his interview with AP, Mr Saeed said that the US only announced the reward because of his demonstrations against reopening supply lines through Pakistan to Nato troops in Afghanistan.

The supply routes were closed down in November when 24 Pakistani soldiers on the border with Afghanistan were accidentally killed in a US air strike.

"We are organising massive public meetings to inform the nation about all the threats which Pakistan will face after the restoration of the supplies," he told AP in a mosque in Islamabad on Tuesday.

"With the grace of God, we are doing our work in Pakistan openly. It is regrettable that America has no information about me. Such rewards are usually for those who live in caves and mountains."

The US has designated both LeT and JuD as foreign terrorist organisations. Intelligence officials say LeT has extended its focus beyond India in recent years - plotting attacks in Europe and Australia.

Correspondents say that the reward represents a change in US thinking - previously it was thought that pursuing the JuD leadership would cause too much friction with the Pakistani government.

The US State Department says that Mr Saeed continues "to spread ideology advocating terrorism, as well as virulent rhetoric condemning the United States, India, Israel and other perceived enemies".

It said that six of the 166 people killed in the 2008 attacks were American citizens.

The sole surviving gunman, Pakistani national Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, was captured and sentenced to death by a court. His appeal is pending.

India has welcomed the reward, saying it sent a strong signal to LeT members that "the international community remains united in combating terrorism" and bringing to justice those behind the Mumbai attacks.  - BBC

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