One day after the Pakistani government lifted the moratorium on death penalty in terror-related cases, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, the military commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, was let off on bail by a special anti-terror court.
Lakhvi was a senior member of the Lashkar hierarchy, second only to 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed. He was arrested in December 2008, soon after the serial attacks rocked Mumbai.
Lakhvi and six others had filed bail applications on Wednesday even as lawyers were on strike condemning the terrorist attack on an army-run school in Peshawar that left 148 people, mostly children, dead.
Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency prosecutor disagreed with the bail request, however advocate Rizwan Abbasi, the lawyer representing Lakhvi stood before the court as the bail was approved, the Dawn reported.
Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi during a rally in 2008. A Pakistani court granted bail on Thursday to Lakhvi, accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. (Reuters photo)
The seven accused - Lakhvi, Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hamad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younis Anjum - are facing trial at the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.
Lakhvi's lawyer told reporters in Islamabad his client was given bail due to lack of evidence even though Ajmal Kasab, one of the 10 terrorists who came to Mumbai from Karachi via the sea route, conspirators David Coleman Headley and Abu Jundal gave graphic details of Lakhvi's exact role.
Lakhvi, according to Kasab (hanged after a due trial) was the main trainer who supervised their target practice and gave them under water training. He was also the financer and main plotter who sat in the terror control room in Karachi. For the three days that Mumbai was under siege, the attacks were being directed from that control room.
One of the clinching pieces of evidence came after Abu Jundal – also present in the control room – was brought to India from Saudi Arabia. Jundal recognised and identified Lakhvi's voice on the terror tapes for the National Investigation Agency (NIA) team that interrogated him after he was tracked and arrested in Saudi Arabia.
Headley, Pakistan-born American terrorist, who visited Mumbai several times to film different targets described Lakhvi as "the main architect of 26/11" to a team of NIA officers, who were given access to him in Chicago.
Headley in a damaging disclosure had also revealed that the then ISI chief, Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, had visited Lakhvi in Adiala jail.
The American government too had shared intelligence with India that Lakhvi had access to a mobile phone in jail and he continued to run the Lashkar's operations from the prison. Two years ago, investigative online journal ProPublica reported that the then Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had declined to confiscate Lakhvi's phone.
Lakhvi's importance to the Pakistani establishment can also be judged from the fact that the military commander was being guarded by Lashkar-e-Taiba soldiers even though he was housed in a high-security jail where the terror trial was being conducted.
For six years now, Pakistan refused to give Lakhvi's voice samples, needed to establish that he controlled the Mumbai attacks from a control room that had been set up in Karachi.
Former home minister P Chidambaram had continuously maintained that a lot of evidence lay on Pakistani soil. Lakhvi's bail on grounds that the evidence was not enough is a major setback to the trial.