- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

LAHORE, Pakistan | A Pakistani court ordered the release Tuesday of the founder of banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba because there was insufficient evidence to link him to last year’s deadly Mumbai attacks. India immediately condemned the ruling.

The Lahore High Court’s decision to free Hafiz Mohammed Saeed from house arrest came as tensions are spiking in Pakistan’s northwest along the Afghan border.

India, which said the ruling was confirmation that Pakistan is not serious about bringing militants to justice, has demanded that Islamabad vigorously pursue those behind the November siege of its commercial capital that killed 166 people and left nine of 10 gunmen dead. The surviving gunman, Pakistani Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, was captured and is on trial in India.

Mr. Saeed was among several suspects arrested in December in Pakistan, which came under tremendous pressure from the United States and other governments to investigate domestic links to the attacks.

The 59-year-old cleric created Lashkar-e-Taiba in the late 1980s to fight Indian rule in Kashmir, the mostly Muslim Himalayan region claimed by both South Asian countries. Indian prosecutors contend that the group masterminded the Mumbai attacks.

The group, which is thought to have supporters within Pakistan’s intelligence agency, was banned by Pakistan in a security clampdown after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Washington lists it as a terrorist organization.

But the group re-emerged as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which Mr. Saeed says is a charity with no links to terrorism. After the Mumbai attacks, the United Nations listed Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, prompting Pakistan to freeze the group’s assets and put its leaders under house arrest.

Mr. Saeed’s attorney, A.K. Dogar, said Tuesday that a three-judge panel had decided the detention was “against the law and constitution of the country.” Supporters of Mr. Saeed shouted “God is Great!”

A copy of the court order could not immediately be obtained. Attorney General Sardar Latif Khosa said the government would read the detailed judgment before deciding whether to appeal.

India’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement that Mr. Saeed’s “professed ideology and public statements leave no doubt as to his terrorist inclinations.”

Mr. Saeed, who remained in his home near Lahore immediately after the decision, told Pakistan’s Geo news channel by telephone that the case against him was an “international conspiracy” and said the ruling supported his contention that Jamaat-ud-Dawa is not a terrorist organization.

Since the crackdown after the Mumbai attacks, Jamaat-ud-Dawa is thought to have taken another name — Falah-i-Insaniat - and its workers have been helping Pakistanis displaced by fighting in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

Other suspected leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba — including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah, who India claims planned the Mumbai attacks — remain in custody.

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