Pakistan releases from house arrest Islamist blamed for 2008 Mumbai attacks

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LAHORE/ISLAMABAD, Nov 24 – A firebrand Pakistani
Islamist accused of masterminding a bloody 2008 assault in the
Indian city of Mumbai was released from house arrest on Friday
and told his cheering supporters his freedom was vindication of
his denial of guilt.

Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head,
had been under house arrest since January after living freely in
Pakistan for years, a sore point in Pakistan’s often fraught
relations with both the United States and India.

Saeed has repeatedly denied involvement in the 2008 Mumbai
attacks in which 10 gunmen attacked targets in India’s largest
city, including two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre and a train
station in a rampage that killed 166 people.

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

“I’m happy that no allegation against me was proved, which
could have done damage to me, or my country’s interests,” Saeed
told supporters after his release in the city of Lahore,
according to a video released by the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)
Islamist charity, which he heads.

“Thank God, we were vindicated.”

The United States says the JuD is a front for the
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group, which Saeed founded and
which has been blamed for a string of high-profile attacks in
India.

Pakistan officially banned the Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2002.

A court on Wednesday ordered an end to Saeed’s house arrest.
He was shown celebrating with his supporters in the video,
sharing sweets and chocolate cakes.

Habibullah Salafi, another JuD official, said earlier
supporters were arriving at Saeed’s home to celebrate ahead of
Friday prayers.

“Today, he will lead Friday prayers at Al-Qadsia,” Salafi
added, referring to the headquarters of the JuD.

There was no immediate comment from India, which has for
years called for Saeed’s prosecution for the Mumbai attacks.

Saeed blamed India for his incarceration in Pakistan.

He has long campaigned in support of Muslim separatists in
the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which Pakistan also
claims.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting the LeT and other
separatists battling in the Indian part of divided Kashmir.
Pakistan denies that.

Saeed vowed no let up in “fighting Kashmir’s case”.

“Our struggle will continue, God willing. We will get all
the people of Pakistan to stand by us,” he said.

While Saeed was under house arrest, his JuD charity launched
a political party, the Milli Muslim League (MML), which has won
thousands of votes in by-elections.

Senior government and retired military figures say the party
has the backing of Pakistan’s powerful military. The military
denies any direct involvement in civilian politics.

MML officials have privately said that the party is
controlled by Saeed, but it is not clear if Saeed would seek to
contest elections or launch a political career.

-(Reuters)