RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — The founder of the Pakistani militant group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks goaded the United States on Wednesday in a defiant public appearance mocking his $10 million US bounty.
Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the extremist organisation accused of masterminding the carnage that killed 166 people in Mumbai four years ago, said he was ready to face "any American court" to answer charges.
The 62-year-old former engineering and Arabic professor appeared on stage at a specially-convened press conference in the Flashman Hotel, close to the headquarters of the Pakistan army in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
"If the United States wants to contact me, I am present, they can contact me. I am also ready to face any American court, or wherever there is proof against me," he told reporters in the hotel named after a fictional colonial hero.
Saeed makes regular public appearances in Pakistan and he mocked the idea of offering a bounty for someone who lives so openly.
"Americans seriously lack information. Don't they know where I go and where I live and what I do?" he said.
"These rewards are usually announced for people who are hiding in mountains or caves. I wish the Americans would give this reward money to me."
There have been fears that the bounty could complicate recent efforts made by Pakistan and the US to repair their fragile alliance, and Islamabad later Wednesday issued a cautious response.
The foreign ministry said it would prefer to receive concrete evidence to proceed legally against Saeed than have a public discussion on the matter.
"In a democratic country like Pakistan, where judiciary is independent, evidence against anyone must withstand judicial scrutiny," said ministry spokesman Abdul Basit in a statement.
Responding to Saeed's goading, the United States said it wanted him prosecuted and jailed.
When asked about Saeed's public appearance State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters: "He's free to do that, unfortunately, up to this moment. But we hope to put him behind bars."
Toner sought to clarify the US reward for Saeed, saying that Washington was offering money not for his capture but for information that would allow his prosecution in a court in the United States or elsewhere.
"We all know where he is -- you know, every journalist in Pakistan and in the region knows how to find him -- but we're looking for information that can be usable to convict him in a court of law," Toner said.
Saeed is a leading figure in the Defence Council of Pakistan, a coalition of right-wing, religious and extremist groups opposed to the government reopening NATO supply lines to Afghanistan, which have been closed since November.
The coalition has staged noisy demonstrations in recent months and Saeed said the campaign had worried Washington.
"The US decision is aimed at silencing the Defence Council of Pakistan and to ensure resumption of supplies through backdoor channels and increase interference in Pakistan," he said.
US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman announced the cash reward in India on Monday, and Saeed accused the United States of kowtowing to pressure from Pakistan's arch-enemy.
Maulana Sami-ul Haq, chief of the Defence Council of Pakistan and dubbed father of the Taliban, called for "countrywide protests" over the bounty on Friday after the main weekly Muslim prayers.
The money offered for information leading to Saeed's arrest and conviction is eclipsed only by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who commands a bounty of $25 million and who some analysts also suspect is hiding in Pakistan.
Asked if the reward had given him any concerns for his own safety, Saeed said: "Both America and India are unnerved now. They should know that my death is in the hands of Allah, not America. Let this be known to everybody."
Saeed's press conference came as US Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides met Pakistani officials for talks in the capital Islamabad aimed at repairing the two sides' fractious alliance.
Nides used his visit to call for a balanced relationship that addressed US concerns about security and Pakistan's sovereignty.
Washington billed the trip as the next step in repairing a relationship that suffered badly over US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November and the covert American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.
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