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Pakistan court orders militant leader's release

Islamabad, June 2, 2009

A Pakistani high court ordered on Tuesday the release of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of an outlawed militant group accused of an assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in November, his lawyer said.

Saeed's release is likely to dismay the United States and India.

After the Mumbai attacks, in which 166 people were killed, India demanded Pakistan 'dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism'. The assault strained ties and led to an Indian freeze on peace talks between the nuclear-armed rivals.

The United States had also pressed Pakistan to take strong action against those responsible for the Mumbai attacks.

'The court has ordered that the detention of Hafiz Saeed was a violation of the constitution and the law of this country,' lawyer A K Dogar told reporters outside the Lahore High Court.

Saeed was put under house arrest in early December after a UN Security Council committee added him and an Islamist charity he heads to a list of people and organisations linked to Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Saeed founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group in 1990, and for years it battled Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir region. The group was banned in Pakistan in 2002.

Saeed also heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) charity, which the United Nations said in December was a front for the LeT.

India says the assault on Mumbai was carried out by Pakistan-based LeT militants who must have had backing from some official Pakistani agencies.

Pakistani investigators have acknowledged the coordinated attacks in India's financial capital were launched and partly planned from Pakistan's soil, and that the sole surviving attacker was Pakistani.

Pakistan has lodged police complaints against eight suspects, including Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the only militant caught alive by Indian forces during the attack. Saeed was not among the eight.

A spokesman for Saeed said the court order proved the JuD charity had no link to terrorism.

'The government has been defeated. Our innocence has been proven,' said JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid.

'Ours is a relief organisation. The decision has proved that we have nothing to do with terrorism. We were on right path and it has been proved ... Nothing has been proved against us.'    

Until recently, the JuD had an extensive welfare network across Pakistan funded by donations. It played a major role in helping survivors of a 2005 earthquake in northern mountains that killed 73,000 people.

JuD members have also been aiding thousands of people displaced by an army offensive against Taliban militants in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad. They have been helping under the banner of a previously unheard of Islamist charity called the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (Foundation for the Welfare of Humanity), aid officials said. -Reuters




Tags: Pakistan | militant |

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