Islamist leader, who offered aid after Sandy, speaks to CNN

CNN
Sunday, November 4, 2012 - 9:39pm

Someone with that bounty on his head would normally have to be in hiding. Not Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the leader of Pakistan's Jamaat-ud-Dawa (Party of Truth), considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

Saeed made headlines in the wake of Superstorm Sandy after he offered to send aid to its victims in the United States, which Washington quickly rejected.

"This particular offer strikes us as very hollow," State Department spokesman Mark Toner has said.

India and Washington accuse Saeed of being directly responsible for the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people, and the U.S. government offered the handsome bounty for information leading to his capture.

Despite his high profile, he says he does not live in seclusion, and he runs 150 madrassas and schools across the country. The U.N. Security Counsel even published a street address for him in Lahore in 2008.

CNN sat down to record an interview with him in a building across from his home.

But Saeed takes security seriously and required that the crew first meet with one of his men on the outskirts of Lahore then follow him into town. Checkpoints lined the block around his house.

He agreed to the interview with a Western news organization, only because he wanted to talk about his offer to Sandy's victims.

"We have differences with the American government's policies, but the American people are only human; we are all human. It's not their fault," Saeed told CNN.

In a sermon, which can be found on the Internet, he has blasted the West as being the real terrorists.

Saeed has repeatedly denied any involvement with the Mumbai killings or support for terrorism despite accusations he has masterminded numerous attacks.

"I condemn this attack and the innocent lives that have been lost," he said. "I don't support this attack or any violence of this kind, but you don't even seem to believe me; I've said it so many times."

He highlighted charitable activities by Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

The U.S. State Department describes JuD's mission as the establishment of Islamist rule in India and Pakistan.

Saeed softened his stance on Sharia law when speaking to CNN, saying he did not want to impose the strict laws by force but encourage it by raising awareness instead. It was a departure from past radical positions.

To the U.N. Security Counsel, Saeed's party is synonymous with the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and he is its leader, who also actively supports al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Even Lashkar-e-Tayyiba as denied responsibility for the Mumbai attacks, which saw the Taj Mahal Hotel set alight, according to the Counsel on Foreign Affairs.

The outlawed group, whose name translates to "army of the pure,"has a reputation for being particularly active in the conflict region of Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan place varying claims on it. China lays claim to a small part of it as well.

India's National Investigation Agency is to carry out inquiries in Pakistan into possible connections with the Mumbai attacks. Saeed told CNN he would speak with them.

He said he has written letters to the U.N. and the European Union in attempts to clear his name, even offering to cooperate with investigations -- to no avail.

Until then, Hafiz Saeed - surrounded by armed guards - says he will continue to provide moral support, but no more, in the cause of liberating Kashmir.

And he will deliver relief aid to the people of Pakistan, as the United States will not accept his offers.
 

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