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26/11 attack trial: New judge takes over in Pakistan

By M Zulqernain
June 29, 2013 17:38 IST
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A Pakistani court on Saturday summoned four witnesses for cross- examination in the trial of seven Pakistanis, including Lashkar-e-Tayiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks, for July 6.

Judge Kausar Abbas Zaidi of the anti-terrorism court, Islamabad, said he would hold the hearing next week within the closed doors of Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. Sources said the judge had refused to hold the hearing in Islamabad till the Nawaz Sharif government provided him a 'foolproof security' from his residence (Sialkot district) to court (Islamabad).

The case was shifted from an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi to a newly established anti-terrorism court in Islamabad two weeks ago. Since it was the first hearing of Judge Zaidi, who replaced Judge Chaudhry Habib-ur-Rehman, he was briefed about the case by the defence lawyer Riaz Cheema.

Zaidi summoned four private witnesses -- Hamza Bin Tariq, Muhammad Ali, Mohammad Saifullah Khan and Umer Draz Khan – who belong to the port city of Karachi for cross examination on the request of the defence for next Saturday. In their testimony about three months ago, the witnesses had told the judge that one of the seven accused -- Shahid Jamil Riaz -- and 10 other people had bought 11 inflatable boats for 'fishing' but these persons never returned from sea with 'any fish'.

One of witnesses said he had sold the accused a Yamaha boat engine for Rs 1.6 lakh and another said he had sold the accused six pumps. The witnesses also identified 10 men, including Amjad Khan and Atiqur Rehman, who were allegedly involved in planning and executing the Mumbai attacks on November 26, 2008 that left 166 people dead. These 10 men were earlier declared "proclaimed offenders" or fugitives by the anti-terrorism court.

According to prosecution, the 10 proclaimed offenders were either trainers or facilitators of the accused who launched the attacks in Mumbai. One witness had told the court that Amjad Khan had obtained from him a "port clearance certificate" for Al-Hussaini, a fishing boat used by the terrorists. Amjad Khan was also involved in purchasing the inflatable boats.

Khan, the fugitive identified by the witnesses, is a shadowy LeT organiser and financier from Karachi who figured in a majority of dossiers provided to Pakistan by India. Khan, who hails from Multan, played a key role in arranging and providing funds to the ten terrorists who attacked Mumbai.

The witnesses could not be cross-examined because Khawaja Haris, Lakhvi's counsel, was not present in the court in that hearing. Later, prosecution chief Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali of the Federal Investigation Agency was assassinated by militants in Islamabad on May 3.

Practically, no hearing of the case has been held since then as Judge Zaidi today took up the case. The judge expressed his annoyance on absence of prosecution lawyer Chaudhry Azhar and asked as why the government had not yet appointed new prosecution chief.

Azhar is also reportedly facing security issues. He had also demanded the government to provide him foolproof security after the assassination of Chaudhry Zulifqar. Zaidi's court was established recently to hear a case filed against former President Pervez Musharraf under the anti-terrorism act.

Till then, Islamabad had no anti-terrorism court and all terrorism cases were heard by courts in Rawalpindi. The Rawalpindi-based anti-terrorism court had been handling the Mumbai attacks case since 2009 though the judge has been changed five times.

Image: The burning dome of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.



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M Zulqernain in Lahore
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