Islamabad, Pakistan – Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attack, has been set free by a Pakistani court, his spokesperson has said.
Indian authorities suspect Saeed to be the mastermind of the deadly Mumbai attacks. He is likely to be freed by Thursday.
Saeed, a United Nations designated “terrorist” who the United States has placed a $10 million bounty on, had been placed under house arrestin the eastern city of Lahore in January by the provincial government under anti-terrorism laws.
On Wednesday, a judicial review body of the Lahore High Court rejected a government request to renew his detention for a further 90 days, his spokesman Nadeem Awan told Al Jazeera.
“When the government was not able to present any evidence to justify [Saeed’s] continued detention, the court ordered his release when his current detention order expires [on Thursday],” said Awan.
“He will be a free man.”
Four of Saeed’s JuD colleagues – Abdullah Ubaid, Zafar Iqbal, Abdur Rehman Abid and Qazi Kashif Niaz – were released last month when a similar review board deemed the government’s evidence for their continued detention to be insufficient.
UN terror list
Saeed, the founder of the LeT, has long distanced himself from the group, and denies any link to the gun and bomb attacks in Mumbai that killed at least 160 people.
He says that he now only runs the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) organisation as a charity. Both the UN and US have designated JuD as a front for LeT, and many its leaders remain subject to UN and other international sanctions.
In 2002, Pakistan banned the LeT as a “terrorist” organisation, and since 2008 authorities say they have been abiding by UN sanctions that subject JuD to an assets freeze, arms embargo and international travel ban.
JuD, however, continues to operate freely across the country, and is often seen at the forefront of humanitarian relief efforts following natural disasters. It also runs a network of seminaries and releases several periodical publications.
The law under which the men were detained required the government to renew the orders to maintain their house arrest every 90 days, but those orders remained subject to judicial review.
In August, JuD launched a political party, the Milli Muslim League (MML), announcing that it would compete in upcoming elections.
While the country’s election commission has so far not ratified the party’s registration, its candidate, standing as an independent, finished fourth in a recent Lahore by-election in the ruling PML-N party’s political heartland, bagging 4.6 percent of the vote.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.