Pakistan releases terrorist behind Mumbai attacks that killed rabbi, wife

Hafiz Saeed freed by court order, despite $10 million bounty on his head by US for founding group that killed 168 people in 2008

Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, gestures outside a court in Lahore, Pakistan, November 22, 2017. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, gestures outside a court in Lahore, Pakistan, November 22, 2017. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

LAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities acting on a court order have released a US-wanted terrorist who allegedly founded a banned group linked to the 2008 Mumbai attack, which killed 168 people including a rabbi and his wife, his spokesman and officials said.

Hafiz Saeed, who has been designated a terrorist by the US Justice Department and has a $10 million bounty on his head, was released before dawn Friday after the court this week ended his detention in the eastern city of Lahore.

The move outraged Indian authorities, but Saeed’s spokesman Yahya Mujahid confirmed his release, calling it a “victory of truth.”

Moshe Holtzberg seen on his first day at first grade in the city of Migdal Haemek on August 26,2012. Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who was five months pregnant, were killed during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistani Islamic terrorists. Their two-year-old son Moshe survived the attack after being rescued by his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel. (Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)

“Hafiz Saeed was under house arrest on baseless allegations and jail officials came to his home last night and told him that he is now free,” he said.

Saeed ran the Jamaat-ud-Dawa organization, widely believed to be a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, which India believes was behind the deadly attack in Mumbai.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 5, 2017 meets with Moshe Holtzberg, the now 12-year-old son of two Chabad emissaries who were killed in a 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. (Haim Tzach, GPO)

Among the dead were Chabad emissaries Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg who were taken hostage and killed in the Mumbai Chabad House along with four other Jewish visitors there.

Pakistan has been detaining and releasing Saeed off and on since the attack. He and four of his aides were put under house arrest in Lahore in January. His release came after a three-judge panel dismissed the government’s plea to continue his house arrest, which ended Thursday. His aides had been released earlier.

Saeed is known for publicly supporting militant groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, which is split between Pakistan and India and is claimed by both. Many in the Indian-controlled portion favor independence or a merger with Pakistan and violence has increased in Indian-controlled Kashmir in recent years.

Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg (Chabad)

In recent years Saeed often addressed protest rallies, asking the world community to pressure India to give the right of self-determination to the people in Kashmir.

Saeed’s release angered neighboring India, which for years has asked Pakistan to take action against all those linked to the Mumbai attack. It is widely believed that Pakistan has long tolerated banned Lashkar-e-Taiba and other Islamic militant groups.

India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar in a statement expressed outrage that a “self-confessed and UN proscribed terrorist was being allowed to walk free and continue with his evil agenda.”

Naftali Charter, the Chief of Security at Nariman (Chabad) House, points to the Hebrew name of the son of slain US Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, his Israeli wife Rivka on a wall in his room, on November 26, 2014. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/ INDRANIL MUKHERJEE)

“He was not only the Mastermind, he was the prime organizer of the Mumbai Terror Attacks in which many innocent Indians and many people from other nationalities were killed,” the statement said.

Kumar said Saeed’s “release confirms once again the lack of seriousness on the part of Pakistani government in bringing to justice perpetrators of heinous acts of terrorism.”

India has said it has evidence that Saeed was involved in the Mumbai attack, but Islamabad has long said sufficient evidence is not available to charge him. India claims the attackers were in contact with people in Pakistan when the assault was underway.

Relations between Pakistan and India were strained after the attack which was perpetrated in India’s financial hub.

Pakistan often says India is violating human rights in Kashmir, where security forces have killed or wounded dozens of protesters at anti-India rallies in recent months.

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