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Pakistan Questioning Cleric Linked to Mumbai Attacks

Pakistan says it is questioning a militant Islamic leader accused by India of masterminding last year's deadly attacks in Mumbai while a special court, it says, is set to indict seven other suspects in the coming week. India wants Pakistan to bring all those responsible for the attacks to justice before it resumes a bilateral peace dialogue.

Pakistan, under intense international pressure, has long acknowledged that the Mumbai attacks were plotted and partly launched from its soil. It has been conducting its own investigation into the violence and a special court has also been holding pre-trial hearing behind closed doors of seven suspects in a high-security prison in the city of Rawalpindi.

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters in Islamabad that his country has concluded its own investigation into the Mumbai events using what he described as"sketchy" information provided by India. He says the evidence and other relevant material investigators have collected so far have been placed before the court, which will indict the seven suspects next week.

But Minister Malik says Pakistan needs more information from India because the existing material is not enough for prosecutors to convince the court that the detainees were actually involved in the Mumbai incident.  "The most important information which we need is the forensic experts' statements, which need to be given to us (by India). We want the maximum information from India so that we can make our case solid, tangible and of course prosecution should be carried out in such a way that the culprits do not get the benefit of doubt," he said.

The Pakistani minister for the first time acknowledged that an Islamic militant leader, Hafiz Saeed, is also under investigation in connection with the attacks on the Indian financial capital. India alleges the hard-line Pakistani cleric and his outlawed Jamaat-ud-Dawa group planned the Mumbai carnage. Mr. Malik, however, says the cleric will be arrested only after solid evidence is found against him.  "I would like to inform you that Hafiz Saeed is being investigated. He has been included in the investigation. We will give fair trial and I assure my Indian counterpart that if there is evidence against Hafiz Saeed during our investigation I assure you he will not get out of the clutches of law," he said.

Pakistani authorities placed Hafiz Saeed under house arrest in December after a special committee of the United Nations Security Council put him and his alleged charity on a list of organizations as well as individuals supporting the al-Qaida network. But a court released him in June on grounds of insufficient evidence.

India wants Pakistan to re-arrest the Islamic leader and prosecute him before it resumes a bilateral peace process New Delhi unilaterally suspended after the Mumbai attacks which killed at least 166 people.

Top officials from the two rival nations have held three bilateral meetings on the sidelines of international gatherings since June but India insists Pakistan take forceful action against those responsible for the terrorist attack on its soil before the peace dialogue is restored.

The foreign ministers of the two countries are also set to hold another meeting in New York next week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting. But Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, while speaking to reporters this week, said he is not expecting any breakthrough on improving bilateral relations when he meets his Indian counterpart in New York.

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