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Pakistan cracks down on group linked to 2008 Mumbai attacks

Pakistani authorities have put Hafiz Saeed, a firebrand cleric linked to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, under house arrest. Experts say this might be due to the pressure from the new US administration on Islamabad.

According to Pakistan's interior minister, Saeed has been placed under "preventive detention." Chaudhry Nisar said that Saeed had been under observation for years, and that Pakistan was under an international obligation to take action against him.

In 2012, the US government put a bounty of $ 10 million (9.35 million euros) on Saeed's head. Saeed founded militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) - the group blamed for the 2008 attack on India's financial capital, Mumbai - but now heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a group listed as a terror outfit by the UN.

Saeed is accused of masterminding the 2008 attack that killed 166 people. The US government also holds Saeed responsible for bombings in Kabul in 2010 and an attack on Indian parliament in New Delhi in 2001.

Nisar hinted on Monday that a crackdown on Saeed's JuD group, which many experts believe is front for the banned LeT, was imminent.

It is not the first time that Saeed has been put under house arrest by Pakistani authorities. He was acquitted by a Pakistani court in 2009 of terror charges. The Pakistani government maintains there is not enough proof of Saeed's involvement in the Mumbai attacks. But what has prompted the authorities to change their mind about Saeed?

'Pressure from Trump's administration'

A senior defense ministry official told the Reuters news agency that Islamabad had been feeling the US pressure on the issue.

"Donald Trump is taking hard decisions against Muslim countries, and there is open talk of actions against Pakistan also. So yes, this was a consideration," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Brussels-based Pakistani journalist Khalid Hameed Farooqi agrees with this assessment. "US President Trump is taking an unusually tough line on terrorism. He might cancel the US aid for Islamabad or impose sanctions on Pakistan's nuclear program. A travel ban on Pakistanis is already under consideration," Farooqi told DW.

"Saeed himself said he was being arrested due to US pressure. I think this time he will remain under arrest for a longer time," the veteran journalist added.

Pakistan Indien Anschläge von Mumbai Taj Hotel (picture-alliance/dpa)

The 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai killed 166 people

Alleged state support

The Indian government blames LeT for the coordinated Islamist attacks on November 26, 2008 in the country's financial hub. Islamabad admits that the terrorist actions were plotted inside Pakistan by banned militant groups, but denies the role of the state in the activity.

Though LeT is banned in Pakistan, many of its leaders, including Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, have not faced any punishment. They run Islamic charity groups and are free to hold public rallies across the country. Some analysts say the JuD leaders receive direct protection from the South Asian country's powerful military, an allegation Pakistan denies.

"JuD leaders operate openly in Pakistan, as they enjoy support from the army. The military will continue to support jihadist organizations as long as it uses jihad as an instrument of Pakistan's defense policy," Arif Jamal, a US-based journalist and author of the book, "Call For Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba," told DW.

The Mumbai attacks continue to be a source of acrimony between India and Pakistan. Indian officials demand that Islamabad hand over Saeed and Lakhvi to them. Pakistan has thus far refused to comply.