The White House Saturday slammed Pakistan’s release of a U.S.-wanted militant, calling it a “step in the wrong direction” that will damage America’s relations with Pakistan.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the U.S. “strongly condemns” the release of Hafiz Saeed from house arrest, and called for his “immediate re-arrest and prosecution.”
“Saeed’s release, after Pakistan’s failure to prosecute or charge him, sends a deeply troubling message about Pakistan’s commitment to combatting international terrorism and belies Pakistani claims that it will not provide sanctuary for terrorists on its soil,” she said. “If Pakistan does not take action to lawfully detain Saeed and charge him for his crimes, its inaction will have repercussions for bilateral relations and for Pakistan’s global reputation. “
Saeed is the leader of the extremist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, which allegedly was responsible for an attack in Mumbai, India, that killed 168 people in 2008, including six Americans. The Justice Department has designated him as a terrorist, and the U.S. has offered a $10 million reward since 2012 for information leading to his arrest and conviction.
He was released Friday after a three-judge panel in Pakistan ended his detention in the eastern city of Lahore, a move that sparked outrage in India and in the U.S.
“As President Donald J. Trump’s South Asia policy makes clear, the United States seeks a constructive relationship with Pakistan, but expects decisive action against militant and terrorist groups on Pakistani soil that are a threat to the region,” Mrs. Sanders said. “The release of Saeed is a step in the wrong direction.”
The Trump administration has been intensifying pressure on Pakistan to fight extremists and drive them from hideouts in Pakistani territory.
The campaign appeared to produce some success this year when Pakistani security forces assisted with the release of a Taliban-held U.S.-Canadian family after five years in captivity. However, U.S. officials cautioned that move needed to be followed by additional measures to prove the country’s commitment.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said during a visit to Washington in October that Pakistan was willing to cooperate fully with the Trump administration. He said Pakistan had wiped out militant hideouts with little help from the U.S., which has restricted hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Pakistan in recent years.
The U.S. in August said it would hold up $255 million in military assistance for Pakistan until it cracks down on extremist groups that threaten neighboring Afghanistan.
Mr. Trump’s tough words about Pakistan, a troubled U.S. security partner, infuriated Islamabad and triggered anti-U.S. protests that Pakistani police have had to use tear gas to disperse.
— This article is based in part on wire-service reports.