Malik Ishaq, dreaded chief of banned LeJ that has carried out attacks on minority Shias and the mastermind of the assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, has been released after three years in jail with the Pakistan government not seeking an extension of his detention.
Ishaq has been under detention for the last three years under a public security order for making “provocative” speeches. The government had detained Ishaq under Maintenance of Public Order (16 MPO), the same law under which key planner of 2008 Mumbai attacks Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is being held after being granted bail by an anti-terrorism court.
The Supreme Court had granted Ishaq bail in July 2011 after which he was held under 16 MPO. Ishaq’s release comes even as the government considers “radical changes” to tackle militancy after the Taliban school massacre in which 148 people, mostly children, were killed in Peshawar.
Ishaq’s release comes despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s pledge to eradicate the “cancer” of sectarianism. The Punjab government yesterday produced Ishaq before a provincial review board comprising three judges of the Lahore High Court headed by Justice Manzoor in a high security here.
The officials of the home department, however, did not seek extension in his detention. “Appeal for further extension in detention of Malik Ishaq is dismissed as withdrawn,” the review board said. “Malik Ishaq is a free man now,” an official said. LeJ has claimed responsibility for a series of bloody attacks, including two bombings targeting Shiites in Quetta in 2013 that killed about 200 people.
Ishaq was also named as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the US earlier this year. The Shia community has strongly criticised the government for not seeking extension in the detention of Ishaq. Ishaq, the influential co-founder of a Sipah-e-Sahaba, a breakaway group that is also linked with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, had told an Urdu daily in 1997 that he was involved in the killing of 102 Shias.
He was arrested the same year, and eventually charged in connection with 44 different cases, including the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March 2009. The Sri Lankan cricket team attack took place on March 3, 2009, when a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers, part of a larger convoy, was fired upon by 12 gunmen, near the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
Six members of the Sri Lankan cricket team were injured. Six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were also killed in the attack.