An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) on Thursday granted bail to the alleged mastermind of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, prompting India to demand an appeal.
Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the commander of banned outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, who was allegedly involved in planning, financing and executing the attacks on Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, was granted bail by ATC judge Syed Kausar Abbas Zaidi against submission of surety bonds worth Rs0.5 million.
Special prosecutor Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Chaudhry Muhammad Azhar confirmed the court had granted bail to Lakhvi.
“We moved a bail application with the Islamabad anti-terror court on December 10, today the judge granted bail to my client after hearing arguments from both sides,” said Lakhvi’s lawyer Rizwan Abbasi.
Lakhvi and six other accused Hammad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jamil Riaz, Younas Anjum, Jamil Ahmed, Mazhar Iqbal and Abdul Majid are currently serving time in Adiala Jail.
On Thursday, the ATC judge took up the bail plea filed by Lakhvi on December 10, 2014 which was fixed for December 17 hearing. However, due to lawyers’ strike against the Peshawar atrocity the court could not hear the case.
Advocate Rizwan Abbasi, the counsel for the petitioner, argued that his client is behind bars since 2009 and there is no sufficient evidence against him. Therefore, he should be granted bail.
After court proceedings, Abbasi told The Express Tribune “I am surprised why bail of my client is linked with recent statement of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in which he had lifted a moratorium on death penalty, as the trial is ongoing and bail application was submitted earlier”.
When asked if he will file bail application for other suspects, the counsel replied that it is premature to say anything about it. “The decision will be taken later while pursuing the case,” he added.
However, FIA prosecutor Azhar opposed the bail application and argued that the trial is in its early stages and bail should not have been granted.
The prosecutor informed the court that in August 2010 the court had rejected his bail application. Later talking to media, he said the FIA will challenge the bail in the Islamabad High Court after the ATC’s detailed judgment.
India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the decision was “very unfortunate”.
“India has given enough evidence (against Lakhvi). We expect the Pakistan government to appeal at the earliest,” he told journalists in Delhi.
India’s foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said the decision to grant bail to Lakhvi was “a reassurance to terrorists who perpetuate heinous crimes”.
“We cannot accept that LeT’s chief operations commander, Lakhvi, one of the key conspirators of the Mumbai terror attacks… a person designated as international terrorist by UN security council, is released on bail,” Akbaruddin said.
“We call upon Pakistan to immediately take steps to reverse this decision,” he told journalists in Delhi.
The pace of prosecutions has been a major irritant in already strained relations between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2014.