Lahore: Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead, is expected to be released from house arrest today following an order by a Pakistani court. The terrorist, who carries a $10 million US reward for evidence that could lead to his conviction, thanked the court judges in a video message released by his organisation. "Thanks to God, this is a victory of Pakistan's independence," he said.
Saeed was put under house arrest in January after years of living freely in Pakistan, one of the sore points in its fraying relationship with the United States. His freedom had also infuriated New Delhi.
The government of Pakistan's Punjab province had asked for a 60-day extension to Saeed's detention but the request was turned down by the court, prosecutor Sattar Sahil told Reuters.
"His previous detention for 30 days is over, which means he would be released tomorrow," said Sahil said on Wednesday.
Saeed has repeatedly denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks in which 10 gunmen attacked targets in Mumbai, including two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre and a train station in a rampage that lasted several days.
The United States had offered a $10 million bounty for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Saeed, who heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD).
Members say the Jamaat-ud-Dawa is a charity but the United States says it is a front for the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror group.
"The review board of the Lahore High Court asked the Punjab government to produce evidence against Hafiz Saeed for keeping him detained but the government failed," Saeed's lawyer AK Dogar told Reuters.
"The court today said that there is nothing against Saeed, therefore he should be released," he added.
A spokesman for India's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
India accused Pakistan of sponsoring the attacks through the LeT, which Saeed founded in the 1990s.
Pakistan has denied any state involvement in the attack. It placed the LeT on a list of banned organizations in 2002.
"The leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Hafiz Saeed's (may God protect him) internment is over," Nadeem Awan, a media manager for JuD, wrote on Facebook after the court order.
(Additional reporting by Tommy Wilkes; Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Nick Macfie and John Stonestreet)
© Thomson Reuters 2017