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Mumbai attack suspects challenge Pakistan indictment

world Updated: Dec 12, 2009 16:52 IST

Seven Pakistanis suspected of involvement in last year's attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai raised legal objections against their indictment on terrorism charges on Saturday, a defence lawyer said.

The objection postponed the commencement of the formal trial of the seven alleged militants linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group India blames for the attacks that killed 166 people.

The hearing was adjourned until Decemebr 19.

The United States wants tensions to ease so that Pakistan can focus on fighting militant groups who cross the border to attack American-led troops in Afghanistan.

Failure there could seriously damage U.S. President Barack Obama's presidency.

The suspects were indicted late last month but defence lawyer Khawaja Sultan challenged the indictment by an anti-terrorism court, saying it refused to record statements from prosecution witnesses.

"We told the judge that this indictment was not based on charges framed by him but is based on those framed by a previous judge," Khawaja Sultan, the lawyer representing Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a suspected mastermind of the attacks, said. "We said this whole charge has become illegal." He said that, under Pakistani law, the judge who issues the indictment should carry on with the case.

India blames Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for the Mumbai attacks and has broken off talks with its neighbour, saying Islamabad must first act against militants operating from its soil, including the LeT.

Six U.S. citizens were among 22 foreigners killed during the assault by 10 militants on Mumbai's two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre, a restaurant and a railway station.

Nine militants were killed during the fight with Indian security forces while the 10th, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, was caught alive and is being tried in India.

India has also been pressing Pakistan to prosecute LeT founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, but Islamabad says New Delhi has not provided enough evidence against him.

Sultan said all seven suspects were present at the hearing, held behind closed doors in a prison in Rawalpindi, a city adjoining the capital Islamabad.

Pakistan has a long and cumbersome legal process in which court cases take months, sometimes even years, to close.

Even if a case is settled in lower courts, it takes more time in higher courts to be processed if the decision is challenged in appeals.