Pakistani militant freed despite Al Qaeda links


Islamabad : A militant with links to Al Qaeda whose arrest three years ago was hailed by Washington and Islamabad as a major success in the war against terrorism has been released in Pakistan, his lawyer said Tuesday.

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Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the chief of the banned organization Harkatul Jihad al-Islami, was released early Monday in Chakwal, located 80 km south of Islamabad, lawyer Hashmat Habib said.

The former adviser of Taliban leader Mullah Omar was arrested in August 2004 in Dubai for his alleged contacts with Al Qaeda and was extradited to Pakistan.

Pakistan's former minister for information Sheikh Rashid at the time described the arrest as a major breakthrough in the war against terrorism.

Akhtar first became known to the public when he was caught planning a failed 1995 military coup by Islamist Pakistani military officers against then prime minister Benazir Bhutto. He was later released after testifying against other plotters.

He resurfaced in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar in 1996 where he established several insurgent training camps and served as an advisor to Mullah Omar in the Taliban government until late 2001.

As US-led forces drove the Taliban from power that year, Akhtar fled Afghanistan and took refuge in Pakistan's tribal region of South Waziristan. He later moved to the United Arab Emirates where he was subsequently detained.

Akhtar was also reportedly involved in planning suicide attacks against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who has survived two attempts on his life since 2001.

Despite three years in custody, the Pakistani government never produced him in court and no charges were brought against him.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan directed the government on May 11 to present a report on Akhtar's whereabouts within two weeks but he was released prior to the deadline.

He is now with his family in the central city of Mandi Bahauddin, Habib said.