In a decision that sparked outrage in India, a Pakistani anti-terrorism court on Thursday granted bail to LeT operations commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, accused of masterminding the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. The order came just a day after Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said there would be no differentiation between “good” and “bad” Taliban.
Lakhvi, 54, and six others accused in the case had filed bail applications on Wednesday, in the midst of a lawyers’ strike to condemn the Peshawar school attack. The in-camera proceedings were held by Justice Kausar Abbasi Zaidi at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi due to security concerns.
“As the trial was near conclusion, the anti-terrorism court in Islamabad today granted bail to Lakhvi, despite evidence against him,” said prosecution chief Chaudhry Azhar. “We were not expecting this decision,” he said, expressing surprise as 15 more witnesses are yet to testify.
The Pakistan government is set to challenge the bail order in the Lahore High Court. “After going through the court order, we will decide to challenge it,” said Azhar.
A Pakistan Interior Ministry spokesman said the government would certainly file an appeal against the trial court’s decision. “We have a strong case against the seven accused and we will challenge Lakhvi’s bail in the high court,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
“We have so far produced 46 witnesses in the court who testified against all seven accused — Lakhvi, Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hamad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younis Anjum. Only 15 more witnesses have to testify against them. And the trial is likely to be concluded in three to four weeks,” said Azhar.
The court granted bail as “evidence against Lakhvi was deficient,” said his counsel, Raja Rizwan Abbasi. The court has asked Lakhvi to submit surety bonds worth Rs 500,000 before he can be released.
In Delhi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh blamed “shortcomings on the part of the prosecution”. Terming the bail order as “unfortunate”, he said India had handed over “adequate evidence to Pakistan regarding Lakhvi”.
“Just after so many children were mercilessly killed in Peshawar, bail is being granted to the mastermind of 26/11 Mumbai attacks… it is quite unfortunate… Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif said they would continue operations against terrorists, so I expect the Pakistan government to appeal in a higher court against the bail granted to Lakhvi,” said Singh.
“While on the one hand, we completed the trial and handed punishment to Ajmal Kasab, bail is being granted to Lakhvi who should also be punished,” said Singh. “Pakistan should hand over our most wanted terrorists. This has been our stand,” he said.
Singh said he would speak to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj so that New Delhi takes up the issue with Islamabad.
“The grant of bail to Lakhvi will serve as a reassurance to terrorists who perpetrate heinous crimes,” said Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.
“India can’t accept that Lakhvi, a key conspirator of the Mumbai attacks and a UN-designated terrorist, is being released on bail. India calls upon Pakistan to immediately take steps to reverse this decision, asserting there can be no selective approaches to terrorism. Given the scale of the tragedy Pakistan faced in recent days, it is incumbent on it to realise no compromise can ever be made with terrorists,” said Akbaruddin.
Meanwhile, Lakhvi’s lawyer said the defence would soon file bail applications of the other six accused. Their trial has progressed at snail’s pace due to repeated adjournments and various technical delays.
In February 2009, Pakistan had announced that Lakhvi was in custody and under investigation for his alleged role as the mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks. In November the same year, the anti-terrorism court formally charged the seven suspects with planning and helping execute the Mumbai attacks. – With PTI inputs
‘Most important person in LeT’
# The Mumbai Police chargesheet says Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi “abetted in executing the attacks after military precision-like planning and training between Dec 2007 to Nov 2008.”
# He was one of the 15 key trainers of the 10 gunmen who attacked Mumbai.
# Ajmal Kasab identified Lakhvi and “described him as the most important person in the LeT and the mastermind behind the operations in Mumbai”.
#n He is also alleged to have been the handler of David Coleman Headley, accused of scouting the Mumbai targets.
Just after so many children were mercilessly killed in Peshawar, bail is being granted to the mastermind of 26/11 attacks… It is unfortunate
Rajnath Singh, Home Minister
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