The Lahore High Court on Wednesday ordered the release of one of the alleged masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed more than 160 people, after months of U.S. pressure on Islamabad over its alleged support for militants.
Firebrand cleric Hafiz Saeed, who heads the U.N.-listed terrorist group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, will be freed tomorrow after less than a year in detention following the decision by the Lahore High Court, a Dawa official said.
“The review board looking in to the case… has refused to extend his house arrest as the government failed to provide any evidence against the charges,” a spokesman for the party, Ahmed Nadeen said.
The horror of the Mumbai carnage played out on live television around the world as commandos battled the heavily armed gunmen, who arrived by sea on the evening of Nov. 26, 2008. It took the authorities three days to regain full control of the city.
Dawa, which has operated freely across Pakistan and is popular for its charity work, is considered by the U.S. and India to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant group blamed for the attack on India’s financial capital.
New Delhi has long seethed at Pakistan’s failure either to hand over or prosecute those accused of planning the attacks, while Islamabad has alleged that India failed to give it crucial evidence.
India has also said there is proof that “official agencies” in Pakistan were involved in plotting the attack—a charge Islamabad denies.
Analyst and retired general Talat Masood told AFP that Saeed is given special treatment by the government “because they think that his organization was supportive in Kashmir,” the disputed Himalayan territory over which India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars.
Saeed said later in a video message that he was detained because of his association with Kashmir. “It’s because of Kashmir that India is after me, but all her efforts have been in vain and Allah has set me free,” he said in the video released by his party’s media team. “This is victory of Pakistan’s freedom and God willing Kashmir will also be freed because I’m fighting Kashmir’s case,” Saeed added.
India blames Pakistan for sending militant groups, including Taiba, to foment unrest in the part of Kashmir under New Delhi’s control. However, Masood said the government could seek new reasons to detain Saeed to avoid more international pressure, particularly from Washington, which has been pressuring Pakistan for months over its alleged support for militants including the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
U.S. President Donald Trump in August accused Pakistan of harboring “agents of chaos,” and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last month that the Washington has made “very specific” requests of Pakistan over militancy.
The U.S. has also made several overtures to India for closer ties. Following a brief period of house arrest in 2008, Saeed led a high-profile public life and regularly delivered fiery anti-India speeches. He was placed under house arrest once more in January this year following years of foreign pressure, prompting demonstrations in several Pakistani cities.
Masood said that his release could see him participate in general elections set to be held sometime next year, adding that if he won a seat in the National Assembly that could be “very embarrassing internationally.”