Pakistan judge hearing Mumbai 26/11 terror trial changed for 8th time

Islamabad: For the eighth time, the judge of the anti-terrorism court conducting the trial of seven Pakistani suspects charged with involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks was changed today as the case was transferred to another court.

Judge Kausar Abbas Zaidi of the Anti-Terrorism Court in Islamabad, who had granted bail to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi – the 2008 Mumbai terror attack mastermind - had been conducting the trial for the last three months.

"Today the case has been transferred to the ATC-II Islamabad. The judge of new court will begin the hearing on January 28," prosecution chief Chaudhry Azhar said.

To a question as to why the case was transferred to another court, Azhar, who is also a special prosecutor of the Federal Investigation Agency, said, "A total of 31 cases each have been divided between the ATC-I and ATC-II (Islamabad) by the judicial authorities and the Mumbai case is transferred to the latter".

Besides Zaidi, Attiquer Rehman, Shahid Rafique, Malik Muhammad Akram Awan and Pervez Ali Shah were among the judges who remained associated with the Mumbai trial since it began in 2009.

No proceedings of the case were held today after the judicial authorities notified transfer of the case to the ATC-II. The court office adjourned the hearing till January 28.

Pakistan faced strong reaction from India following the bail of Lakhvi on December 18.

"Transfer of the case from Mr Zaidi may be seen in this backdrop," a source in the court said. He said the transfer of the case might cause further delay in the case.

Zaidi had cited "weak evidence, the registration of the FIR invoking irrelevant sections and hearsay evidence against the suspect" in his bail order. He noted that the main evidence on the basis of which Lakhvi was implicated in the case was the confessional statement of Ajmal Kasab, who was executed in an Indian jail on November 21, 2012.

The evidence against Lakhvi was based on the statements of the officials of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) which apparently were 'insufficient' to refuse the grant of bail to the accused.

The government has challenged the trial court's decision to grant Lakhvi bail in the Islamabad High Court.

A two-member bench headed by Justice Shaukat Siddiqui had summoned Lakhvi for arguments in the case on next hearing. The court has not yet fixed the date of hearing. The prosecution informed the court in its petition that the trial court ignored testimony in the 26/11 case while granting bail to Lakhvi.

"The fact remains that such like cases of defunct terrorist organisations are not so easy to be conducted and especially the prosecution in such cases is the most difficult job in our country for the last many years.

"In this case, the learned trial judge (of ATC) after the terrorist attack in Islamabad courts (of March 2013) refused to visit Adiala Jail for a long time due to security reasons. Even the prosecutors of this case have been receiving threats through cell phones during the proceedings which were duly conveyed to the concerned authorities. The witnesses are also not secured, and reluctant to depose against the accused persons in the given situation.

"A major part of the evidence has been recorded and the rest will not take more than three months to record and therefore the observation of the ATC's judge that the trial may take years to conclude is not correct," the prosecution said.

Lakhvi has been detained in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi under Maintenance of Public Order (MPO). Lakhvi and six others - Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hamad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younis Anjum - have been charged with planning and executing the Mumbai attacks in November, 2008 that left 166 people dead.

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