The anti-terrorism court in Pakistan gave bail to LeT operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a key planner of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, despite evidence against him in the case which was nearing its end, prosecution said on Thursday, disclosing that they will challenge the decision.
"As the trial was near conclusion the Anti-Terrorism Court Islamabad Thursday granted bail to Lakhvi despite evidence against him," prosecution chief Chaudhry Azhar told PTI.
As seven judges of the Mumbai case have been replaced since the start of the trial in 2009, Jutsice Kausar Abbasi Zaidi is the eighth one holding the in camera proceedings at Adiala Jail Rawalpindi due to security concerns.
"We have so far produced 46 witnesses in the court who testified against all seven accused - Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hamad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younis Anjum. Only 15 more witnesses have to testify against them in coming days. And the trial is likely to be concluded in three to four weeks," he said.
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 46 witnesses included the officials of the Federal Investigation Agency, Crime Investigation Department, National Database Registration Authority, government doctors and people who have testified against the accused for running training camps, bank transactions, giving directions on phone to some of the 10 terrorists operating in Mumbai, buying inflatable boats used for transporting the terrorists and etc.
The prosecution lawyers including Chaudhry Azhar had received threats from Jamaat-ud-Dawah and reported the same to the judge and requested for their security.
Jamaat-ud-Dawah is led by Hafiz Saeed, who is on India's most wanted list for masterminding the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people during a 60-hour siege in November 2008.
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.
The prosecution lawyers had recently filed an application in the trial court requesting that the hearing should be held through a video-ink or allow the witnesses to submit their recorded statements in the court. But the court dismissed it.
The government would challenge Lakhvi's bail in the Lahore high court.
"After going through the court order in Lakhvi's bail case we will decide to challenge it," Azhar said, expressing surprise over the court's move to grant bail as some 15 more witnesses are yet to testify against the accused including Lakhvi.
An interior ministry spokesperson told PTI that the government would certainly file an appeal against the trial court's decision.
"We have a strong case against the seven accused of the Mumbai terror attacks and we challenge Lakhvi's bail in the high court," said the official who requested anonymity.
The official further said that the government may not release Lakhvi under 16 MPO (Maintenance of Public Order) law.
The trial court has asked Lakhvi to submit surety bonds worth Rs 500,000 surety before he can be released.
"There has been many cases like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi chief Malik Ishaq who could not be freed from jail despite granted bail by the court because they may create law and order situation. The government is seriously pondering to detain Lakhvi under 16 MPO for a month or three months," the official said.
Lakhvi, the operational head of the banned Laskhar-e-Taiba, was one of the key planners of the Mumbai attack.
Nine of the terrorists involved in the attack were killed by Indian security forces. The only surviving attacker, Ajmal Kasab, was hanged after conviction by a trial court that was confirmed and upheld by higher courts in India.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani electronic media literally gave "no coverage" to Lakhvi's bail news.
The news channels avoided broadcasting the news in the backdrop of the Peshawar tragedy in which 132 children were massacred by Taliban the other day.
Hardly a few channels ran the news in tickers.