Pakistan court orders release of alleged mastermind behind Mumbai attacks: Lawyer

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - A Pakistan court on Friday cancelled a detention order against the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, a senior government lawyer told AFP, potentially paving the way for his release.

It is the latest round in a tussle over Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, accused over the terror siege that left 166 dead, which has worsened already strained ties with India.

Lakhvi was granted bail by an anti-terror court in December, infuriating New Delhi, but quickly slapped with a detention order under public order laws. The Islamabad High Court suspended that order, only for the Supreme Court to reinstate it in January.

Now on Friday, the High Court once again set aside the detention order, senior government lawyer Jehangir Jadoon told AFP, adding that a detailed judgement explaining the decision was expected later. Friday's ruling means Lakhvi could be released, though the government can still appeal to the Supreme Court and for now he remains in jail.

Lakhvi has never been let out of Adiyala Prison in Rawalpindi throughout the back and forth over his detention, which prompted an angry response from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he was initially granted bail.

India on Friday reacted with displeasure to the Pakistani court's decision.

"Pakistani agencies must produce incriminating evidence available in the court of law in Pakistan. And there should be no discrimination in showing the character of terrorists. Terrorists cannot be bad or good terrorists," Junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju told reporters.

"They must ensure that Lakhvi doesn't get out on bail and doesn't get out of jail. If proper legal measures are taken then I am sure Lakhvi will not get out of jail."

The Mumbai attacks were blamed on banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). India has long seethed at Pakistan's failure either to hand over or prosecute those accused of planning and organising the violence.

Lakhvi and six other suspects have been charged in Pakistan but their cases have made virtually no progress in more than five years.

Delhi accuses Islamabad of prevaricating over the trials, while Pakistan has claimed India failed to hand over crucial evidence.

The horror of the Mumbai carnage played out on live television around the world, as commandos battled the heavily armed gunmen, who arrived by sea on the evening of Nov 26, 2008.

It took the authorities three days to regain full control of the city and New Delhi has long said there is evidence that "official agencies" in Pakistan were involved in plotting the attack.

Islamabad denies the charge but LeT's charitable arm Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), seen as a front for the militant group, operates openly in the country.

LeT founder Hafiz Saeed leads a high-profile existence in Pakistan despite a US$10 million (S$13.8 million) US government bounty offered for his capture, regularly appearing on TV and addressing large public gatherings of his followers.

Maulana Abdul Aziz Alvi, the head of the Kashmir chapter of JuD, welcomed the court's decision.

"It is a victory of truth which has a very postive impact on the judicial system of Pakistan," he said.

Lakhvi's bail order came just days after a Taleban massacre at a school in north-west Pakistan, an outrage that prompted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to say Pakistan would not distinguish between "good Taleban and bad Taleban".

But Pakistan has long been accused of playing a "double game" with militants, supporting groups it thinks it can use for its own strategic ends, particularly in disputed Kashmir.

Pakistan and India both control part of Kashmir but claim the whole of the territory and have fought two of their three wars over it since independence from Britain in 1947.

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