A Pakistani high court on Tuesday freed Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, key accused in the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.
Saeed was arrested after the UN Security Council declared him a terrorist last December.
The decision sparked a sharp reaction from New Delhi and dampened the prospects of reviving peace talks with Pakistan, stalled after the Mumbai attacks that claimed at least 173 lives.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said the decision was “regrettable” and showed that Pakistan was not serious about fighting terror.
“We are unhappy that Pakistan does not show the degree of seriousness and commitment that it should to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crime,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram said.
Saeed founded militant group Lashkar e-Tayyaba in 1990 and has featured on India’s “most wanted” list after the 2001 Parliament attack, which was blamed on Pakistan-based militant groups.
Pakistani authorities banned Lashkar in 2002 following pressure from the international community. But Saeed re-emerged with a new outfit — Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which posed as a charity.
He was put under house arrest on December 11 last year and Jamaat was banned after the UN Security Council passed a resolution designating it as a front for Lashkar that had links with al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Council also named Saeed as a terrorist.The 59-year-old militant leader is among the 38 people against whom Mumbai police has brought charges for having “aided and abetted in executing these (26/11) attacks after military precision-like planning and training between December 2007 and November 2008 in Pakistan.”
But the High Court of Lahore on Tuesday ruled Saeed’s arrest as unlawful.
The government of Punjab province in Pakistan said, however, that it would appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.
Tuesday’s ruling was another blow to the slow-moving peace process between India and Pakistan.
“India had demanded that Pakistan dismantle the terror infrastructure and cooperate in the 26/11 probe but on both counts Pakistan has failed so it is hard to think that the dialogue process will be resumed,” said Lalit Mansingh, former foreign secretary and ambassador to the United States.
Pakistani investigators have acknowledged the coordinated attacks in Mumbai 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 during the attack. Saeed was not among the eight.