- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

ISLAMABAD (AP) - Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the release on bail Monday of a hard-line cleric who had been detained since shortly before soldiers stormed his mosque in 2007, killing scores of people and energizing the country’s Islamist insurgency.

Maulana Abdul Aziz was granted bail while the court considers the charges against him in relation to the siege of the Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad, his lawyer Shaukat Siddiqui told reporters outside the court. Prosecutors were not available for comment.

Aziz was arrested as he tried to sneak out of the mosque dressed in an all-covering burqa worn by some Muslim women.

Several days later, security forces stormed the mosque and adjoining buildings after scores of heavily armed militants inside refused to surrender. The government says 102 people, including 11 security personnel, were killed in the standoff.

Aziz is facing a raft of charges ranging from abetting terrorists to illegally occupying a building.

Pakistan has a history of failing to successfully prosecute militants, many of whom are believed to have once had links with the country’s armed forces.

The siege triggered anger among Pakistani Islamists, and suicide bombings and other attacks on the government and security forces picked up pace in the months afterward. They have continued since then, alarming Pakistan’s Western allies who are concerned about the stability of the nuclear-armed state.

On Wednesday, a suicide car bomber attacked a police checkpoint, killing four officers and two civilians, said police officer Ikramullah Khan. The attack occurred close to Peshawar in the northwest of the country, which borders Afghanistan and is a stronghold of the Taliban and al-Qaida.

The government stirred fresh international alarm on Monday when it accepted Islamic law in the northwestern Swat valley to quell the Taliban insurgency there.

Eighteen months of bloodshed in Swat prompted the provincial government in February to agree to impose Islamic law in Swat and in surrounding areas to achieve peace. The Taliban agreed to a cease-fire.

After weeks of delay, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari approved the regulation Monday after Parliament voted unanimously to adopt a resolution urging him to sign it.

The deal covers the Malakand division of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, a largely conservative region near the Afghan border. The Swat Valley is less than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Islamabad and is believed to be largely under Taliban control.

Defenders say the deal will drain public support for extremists who have hijacked long-standing calls in Swat for reform of Pakistan’s snail-paced justice system. But critics worry it rewards hard-liners who have beheaded political opponents and burned scores of schools for girls in the name of Islam. Western allies are particularly concerned that Swat will become a sanctuary for allies of the al-Qaida terror network.

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