Islamabad, Nov 23: Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed, accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai massacre, is all set to walk free after about 10 months of house arrest.
A Lahore High Court review board on Wednesday rejected an appeal of the Punjab government seeking to extend the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief's detention for more three months and ordered his release. His current detention order expires on Thursday.
Saeed and his four aides -- Abdullah Ubaid, Malik Zafar Iqbal Shahbaz, Abdur Rehman and Qazi Kashif Hussain -- had been under house arrest since January under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
A source in the Punjab government, however, told the Nation that the authorities were planning to keep the JuD chief under house arrest in another case pending against him.
He has been declared a global terrorist by the UN and the US for his role in the Mumbai attack that killed 166 Indians and foreigners and has a $10 million bounty on his head.
A three-member board passed the order for his release when the provincial and federal governments failed to bring any convincing evidence against Saeed.
The move came just days after the US Defence Department persuaded Congress to drop a provision that had linked reimbursements to Pakistan with demonstrable action against LeT.
"It astounds me that we keep giving Pakistan money - military and foreign aid - and they're a haven for terror groups from the Taliban to LeT. The military folks over the years have not made the case to me that we should continue military support to Pakistan," Republican Congressman Ted Poe said last week.
Following the court decision, JuD Information Secretary Nadeem Awan said: "We are overjoyed to announce that after waiting for 10 long months, our chief will finally be free."
He said the government's lawyers had repeatedly argued in court that Saeed was a threat to public safety and that his release could lead to international penalties for Pakistan for not moving against terrorism financing.
"But at no point was the government able to provide any actual evidence for these charges," he said.
Saeed told the media on Wednesday that an end to his detention was tantamount to a victory of truth and called the decision "a serious blow" to India's demands that he be kept in custody and punished for the 2008 massacre.
Later, in a video message released by his party, Saeed said he was detained because of his association with Jammu and Kashmir.
"It's because of Kashmir that India is after me, but all her efforts have been in vain and Allah has set me free."
Saeed's advocate A.K. Dogar said the JuD leaders had been detained merely on the basis of allegations, without any substantial evidence against them, and called the call for extending the detention "illegal" and a "violation of basic rights".