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Court Orders Release of Suspect in Mumbai Attacks

FILE - The alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistani Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, center, is seen praying with others on June 28, 2008, in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir.

A Pakistani court has ordered the release of the alleged mastermind of the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai, India, that killed more than 160 people.

Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a leader of the banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba, has been in prison since February 2009, when he and six others were charged in connection with the attacks.

India summoned Pakistan’s envoy in New Delhi, Abdul Basit, to receive a protest about the release order issued Friday by the High Court in Islamabad. Lakhvi has not yet been released but could be as soon as Saturday.

Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman for India's Ministry for External Affairs, said in a statement that Lakhvi’s release was “against Pakistan's professed commitment to combat terrorism, including its recently stated policy of not differentiating among terrorists.”

“If such a person, who is also a designated international terrorist by the United Nations, is released, it will pose a threat that cannot be ignored," the statement added.

The court action came less than two weeks after India's foreign secretary visited Pakistan — a sign that the two countries might resume dialogue after seven months of tension. Indian officials often have blamed Pakistan for the slow pace of prosecutions arising from the Mumbai attacks, and the matter is usually high on India’s list of priorities in any discussions between the countries.

India's minister of state for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju, strongly criticized Pakistani authorities Friday, according to India’s leading English daily, The Hindu. "The overwhelming evidence against Lakhvi has not been presented properly before the court by Pakistani agencies," she said.

However, Pakistan’s former envoy to New Delhi, Aziz Ahmed Khan, told VOA that the question of Lakhvi's detention was a judicial matter, and that Pakistan’s courts were free to make their own decisions. The issue will certainly be raised in any future India-Pakistan talks, he said.

Lakhvi first received bail in the Mumbai attacks case in December, a few days after a devastating attack on a school in Peshawar left 150 dead. Under strong criticism from India and other countries, the government of Pakistan detained him before he actually was released, under the Maintenance of Public Order Act.

The Islamabad High Court later suspended his detention order, but the Supreme Court restored it, pending the government’s arguments before the IHC. The order issued Friday means Lakhvi could be set free within hours.

Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities brought new charges against Lakhvi, accusing him of kidnapping an Afghan national six years earlier.

In the course of their petitions to keep Lakhvi in custody on the Mumbai attack charges, prosecutors have said they and potential witnesses received threats of violent reprisals.