Pakistan has released the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, after the country’s High Court ruled he must be granted bail until the end of his trial.
Zakuir Rehman Lakhvi is believed to be the operations chief of the Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. In 2008, 10 members of the group launched a series of attacks in Mumbai, India’s largest city. An estimated 166 people were killed and more than 600 were injured in an attack that lasted four days.
Now, Lakhvi is being allowed to depart prison after a court ruled he must be free until the conclusion of his criminal trial. The release raises concerns that Lakhvi might seize the opportunity to flee Pakistan, and also raises further questions about Pakistan’s willingness to aggressively prosecute homegrown terrorists. Despite being arrested in 2009 for allegedly planning the Mumbai attack, Lakhvi’s trial has not even begun, nor has that for six other suspects.
According to the BBC, Lakhvi’s release suggests that authorities may not have enough evidence to even convict Lakhvi. Despite receiving substantial evidence from the Indian government, much of this evidence has apparently been left out of the trial record, a reflection of both legal complexities and, perhaps, a lack of zeal by state prosecutors.
Friday’s release comes after years of preferential treatment for Lakhvi in the Pakistani prison system. According to the BBC, he and his co-defendants had several rooms at their disposal, were allowed to receive dozens of unscreened visitors per day, and were given access to the Internet, television, and even their own cell phones. These privileges have allegedly allowed Lakhvi to continue running Lashkar-e-Taiba during his stint behind bars.
Pakistan’s decision has aroused a storm of protest from foreign states, in particular India. Jeff Rathke, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said the U.S. is “gravely concerned” about Lakhvi’s release and is considering a possible response, while French president Francois Hollande described the country’s decision as “shocking.” Whether this protest will translate into any substantive policy changes towards Pakistan, however, remains to be seen.
Lakhvi’s release stands in notable contrast to the situation of Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor. While ostensibly in prison for his ties to a Muslim militant group, Afridi is widely believed to be in jail for his role in helping the U.S. locate and kill Osama bin Laden. Despite U.S. protests, Afridi has remained in prison since 2011.
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