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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

India outraged after Pakistan court releases Mumbai attacks 'mastermind'

India on Thursday expressed outrage at Pakistan's release of an Islamist leader accused of organising the 2008 Mumbai attacks that nearly brought the nuclear-armed nations to the brink of war.

A Pakistani court on Wednesday ordered the release of Hafiz Saeed, who carries a $10 million (Dh36.7m) US bounty, after Islamabad failed to back the charges of terrorism with evidence.

Saeed, who heads the banned charity group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), was put under house arrest in January following increased US pressure on Islamabad to rein in militant groups.

"India, as indeed the entire international community, is outraged that a self-confessed and a UN-proscribed terrorist is allowed to walk free and continue with his evil agenda," an Indian foreign ministry spokesman said.

"It also appears to be an attempt by the Pakistani system to mainstream proscribed terrorists."

Saeed was declared a global terrorist by the US and the United Nations over his alleged role in the attacks that left nearly 166 people dead, including western nationals.

JuD, which has operated freely across Pakistan and is popular for its charity work, is considered by the US and India to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group blamed for the attacks.

The US president Donald Trump in August accused Islamabad of harbouring "agents of chaos" while secretary of state Rex Tillerson has said too many extremists were finding sanctuary inside Pakistan.

New Delhi has long seethed at Pakistan's failure either to hand over or prosecute those accused of planning the attacks, while Islamabad has alleged that India failed to give it crucial evidence.

Saeed has repeatedly denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks in which 10 gunmen targeted two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre and a train station in a rampage that lasted several days.

The violence brought nuclear-armed neighbours Pakistan and India to the brink of war.

Pakistan has denied any state involvement in the attack. It placed Lashkar-e-Taiba on a list of banned organisations in 2002.

Hafiz Saeed, centre, the head of banned Islamic charity Jamat ud Dawa, waves to supporters after he was released from house arrest by a court in Lahore. Rahat Dar / EPA
Hafiz Saeed, centre, the head of banned Islamic charity Jamat ud Dawa, waves to supporters after he was released from house arrest by a court in Lahore. Rahat Dar / EPA

This is the third time that Saeed has been released by courts after Islamabad briefly detained him twice in the aftermath of the attacks on November 26, 2008.

The Indian foreign ministry said Saeed being released again release showed that Pakistan was continuing its policy to support and shield non-state actors who are involved in militant activities in the region.

Saeed for decades has publicly espoused ending India's rule of the disputed Kashmir region, with India accusing him of sending armed militants to the valley.

India and Pakistan, who rule parts of the disputed region, have fought two of their three wars over the territory, with scores of militant groups, including LeT, engaged in a decades-old armed insurgency against Indian rule.