India outraged as Pakistan court frees 'Mumbai plotter'

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The Independent Online

India has angrily levelled fresh accusations at the Pakistani authorities after a court in Lahore ruled that a hardline Islamic cleric alleged to have been behind the Mumbai attacks should be set free.

The Lahore High Court said the Pakistani government had no right to continue with the house detention of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the head of a charity that has been described as a front for the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). The Pakistani authorities said they would appeal against the decision at the Supreme Court.

But India seized on the incident yesterday, saying it underlined the unwillingness of Islamabad to deal with those accused over last November's attacks. "We are unhappy that Pakistan does not show the degree of seriousness and commitment that it should to bring to justice perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack," said India's Home Minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram.

While Pakistan has taken into custody and charged several of those blamed for the attacks in Mumbai that left 166 dead, it has not brought any such charges against Mr Saeed. It has, however, held him under house arrest and closed down some of the offices of his charity, Jamaat-ud-Dawa. It has also repeatedly insisted that India has not been forthcoming with sufficient evidence to prosecute the alleged plotters.

Mr Saeed's lawyer left the courthouse saying that judges had decided his client's house arrest was "against the law and constitution of the country". Inside, supporters had started cheering when the judges announced their verdict. Later, Mr Saeed's spokesman, Yahya Mujahid, told reporters that the decision vindicated Mr Saeed's claim that his charity was not linked to militancy. "We hope this order will be implemented," he said. "Our organisation is working to serve the suffering humanity." As of last night Mr Saeed had not been freed from house arrest in Lahore.

Mr Saeed helped establish LeT two decades ago to fight against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. The group, believed to have received the support of Pakistani intelligence, was banned in 2002 after being accused by India of plotting the attack on the country's parliament. After the ban, the leadership of LeT emerged from within the charity, Jamaat ud-Dawa, which has since worked as a highly visible aid organisation across the region – most notably in the aftermath of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake.

After the Mumbai attacks, the charity was designated a terrorist organisation by the US and the UN, and the Pakistani authorities took some action to shut down its operations. It has since emerged that the charity has reappeared using the name Falah-i-Insaniat and has been at the centre of relief operations to help refugees forced from their homes following the military operation against the Taliban in the Swat valley.