A former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is among the many voices in the US criticising the release of Hafiz Saeed, alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, from house arrest in Pakistan on Friday.
Michael Morell said the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief has blood on his hands and now he wants to bring extremism into the political mainstream in Pakistan.
''Saeed is a terrorist. Worked with LeT, a Kashmiri militant group, and al-Qaida on attacks. He has blood on his hands. Now wants to bring extremism into the political mainstream in Pakistan,'' Morell said in a tweet.
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is the head of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), purportedly a charitable organisation, but he is also the founder of the militant LeT, with a $10 million American bounty on his head. He was released from house arrest on Friday by a court in Lahore.
Saeed's release came just ahead of the 9th anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people, including six Americans, were killed. Ten terrorists, including Ajmal Kasab – the only one captured alive and subsequently hanged by India - had gone on a killing spree in Mumbai after reaching the city from Karachi by sea.
The Trump administration too has expressed ''deep concern'' over Saeed's release and asked the Pakistan government to make sure that he is arrested and charged for his crimes.
A statement issued by US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert in Washington and distributed by the US embassy in Delhi said, ''The United States is deeply concerned that Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Saeed has been released from house arrest in Pakistan.
LeT is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, including a number of American citizens. The Pakistani government should make sure that he is arrested and charged for his crimes.''
Coming out of house arrest, the JuD chief spewed venom against India and said he would gather people across Pakistan for the ''cause of Kashmir'' and try to help Kashmiris get their ''destination of freedom'', (See: Freed from arrest, Hafiz promptly launches tirade on Kashmir).
Saeed has been under detention since January this year. He was put under house arrest after the Mumbai attack but was released about six months later in June 2009.
The US media was equally alarmed by the release. NBC News said Saeed's release could once again sour US relations with Pakistan.
The New York Times said that for decades, Pakistan had cast a benign eye on groups like LeT, which is perceived as an asset because its attacks target Indian soldiers in Kashmir, even as the government battles jihadist groups like the Pakistan Taliban that directly threaten the country.
"But despite its pressure on Pakistan to move against militants like Saeed, the United States has also sent mixed messages. Just a month ago, the United States Senate struck down a provision tying American government funding to Pakistan to the country's efforts to curb Lashkar-e-Taiba's operations.
"The provision, part of a broader Pentagon-funding legislation that Congress introduced this past summer, would have forced the secretary of defence to certify that Islamabad was thwarting Lashkar-e-Taiba's activities inside Pakistan or risk $350 million in American assistance," the NYT wrote.
In an op-ed, The Washington Examiner said the Trump administration "should work with India" to "capture or kill" Saeed.
"Trump should call Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and offer to work with him to capture or kill Saeed," the daily said, adding that Saeed intends to lead a new Muslim theocratic political bloc in next year's parliamentary polls.
"Although Pakistan's electoral commission has refused to certify the bloc, Saeed's populist power should not be understated. Charismatic and determined, if left unchecked in his political party or terrorist activities, Saeed could destabilise the region," the daily added.
The JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the banned LeT which is responsible for carrying out the Mumbai terror attack.