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Pak's Red Mosque cleric freed on bail

world Updated: Apr 16, 2009 21:46 IST
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Pakistan late on Thursday freed on bail the deposed chief cleric of Islamabad's radical Red Mosque nearly two years after he was captured during a bloody siege, his lawyer said.

Hardliner Maulana Abdul Aziz, who called for Islamic law in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, was a brother of the main figurehead for radical militants holed up in the mosque during the deadly July 2007 government siege.

Pakistan's Supreme Court had Wednesday granted bail to Aziz on a surety bond worth 200,000 rupees (2,500 US dollars).

"We submitted a surety bond on the Supreme Court's order. The bond was accepted by the authorities," Aziz's lawyer Shaukat Siddiqui told AFP.

"The release orders were then conveyed to police outside his house. Police have been withdrawn from his residence. He's a free man now," he added.

Television footage showed Aziz sitting in a jeep being driven away from his residence where he had been detained in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and sympathisers said he was en route to the Red Mosque to give thanks.

The last time he was at the mosque he was captured trying to flee the building disguised in a woman's burka.

"Maulana is on his way to the mosque. We welcome his release. He will offer prayers here and tomorrow he will lead the Friday prayers at the Red Mosque," said Mufti Amir Azam, an official for hardline party Jamaat Ulema Islam.

Around 50 burka-clad women students gathered outside the mosque, carrying baskets of fresh rose petals ready to shower Aziz in congratulations.

Dozens of other local residents and male students gathered to await his arrival as radical political activists distributed sweets.

Witnesses said there was only a limited security presence of around 12 police outside the mosque.

Cases pending against him include charges of abetting the seizure of a children's library near the Red Mosque.

The cleric was arrested after government forces besieged and stormed the mosque in July 2007, killing more than 100 people because Al-Qaeda militants were allegedly holed up inside the building and an adjacent girls' school.

The mosque was reopened on the Supreme Court's order three months after the bloody raid in which Aziz's brother Abdul Rashid Ghazi was killed.

The mosque operation unleashed a wave of revenge suicide attacks across Pakistan that have left more than 1,700 people dead. Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network also called on Pakistani Muslims last year to avenge the military raid.

Militants said to be loyal to the Red Mosque have been blamed for some of those attacks, especially a number of blasts in Islamabad, although most have been attributed to Pakistani Taliban rebels.

Aziz's release came as Japan promised up to one billion dollars in aid to Pakistan on the eve of a Tokyo donors meeting expected to raise at least four times that amount for the poor and crisis-riven country.

Washington has put Pakistan at the heart of the fight against Al-Qaeda and President Barack Obama has unveiled a sweeping new strategy to turn around the war in neighbouring Afghanistan and defeat militants in both countries.