The Pakistani militant leader with a $10m (€7.6m) bounty on his head has mocked America and dared it to arrest him.
“I am here, I am visible. America should give that reward money to me,” said Hafiz Mohammad Saeed.
“I will be in Lahore tomorrow. America can contact me whenever it wants to.”
Analysts have said that Pakistan is unlikely to arrest Saeed, founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, because of his alleged links with the country’s intelligence agency and the political danger of doing Washington’s bidding in a country where anti-American sentiment is rampant.
Saeed, 61, has been accused of orchestrating the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people. But he operates openly in Pakistan, giving public speeches and appearing on TV talk shows.
He has used his high-profile status in recent months to lead a protest movement against US drone strikes and the resumption of Nato supplies for troops in Afghanistan sent through Pakistan. The supplies were suspended in November in retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Hours before Saeed spoke, US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides met Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in the nearby capital, Islamabad, for talks about rebuilding the two nation’s relationship.
The US said it issued the bounty for information leading to Saeed’s arrest and conviction in response to his increasingly “brazen” appearances. It also offered up to $2m for Lashkar-e-Taiba’s deputy leader, Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki, who is Saeed’s brother-in-law.
The rewards marked a shift in the long standing US calculation that going after the leadership of an organisation used as a proxy by the Pakistani military would cause too much friction with the Pakistani government.
The US may be hoping the bounty will force Pakistan to curb Saeed’s activities, even if it is unwilling to arrest him. But the press conference he called in the garrison town of Rawalpindi just outside Islamabad was an early sign it may not have much impact.
He also gave multiple interviews in which he denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks and said the US was just trying to prevent him from telling the nation that the government should not allow Nato supplies to resume.
The bounty offers could complicate US efforts to get the supply line reopened. Pakistan’s parliament is currently debating a revised framework for ties with the US that Washington hopes will get supplies moving again. But the bounties could be seen by MPS and the country’s powerful army as a provocation and an attempt to gain favour with India.
The announcement of the rewards also could signal a greater willingness to take a hard line with Pakistan following a year in which the relationship between the two countries severely deteriorated.
Saeed founded Lashkar-e-Taiba in the 1980s allegedly with ISI support to pressure Pakistan’s arch-enemy India.
Pakistan banned the group in 2002 under US pressure, but it operates with relative freedom under the name of its social welfare wing Jamaat-ud-Dawwa - even doing charity work using government money.