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Arrest in Mumbai attacks case may delay trial

Updated August 22, 2016

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ISLAMABAD: The recent arrest of an alleged financier of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks has been termed a breakthrough in the otherwise stalled case, but it may delay the conclusion of the trial pending in an antiterrorism court (ATC) since 2009.

Recently, the Federal Investigation Agency arrested Sufyan Zafar and the ATC sent him to Adiala Jail on judicial remand, allowing the agency to interrogate him.

Since the trial is being conducted under Section 21-M of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, Zafar may be tried along with seven suspects arrested earlier for an offence they are alleged to have committed in connivance with each other.

The prosecution has concluded evidence of all 68 Pakistani witnesses and requested the court to summon 24 Indian witnesses.

Zafar’s trial will commence after submission of a challan when the court will indict him along with seven other suspects. Hence, the prosecution will have to call the 68 witnesses again.

According to Raja Rizwan Abbasi, the lead defence counsel, “the Mumbai attacks case has returned to 2009 when the trial against the seven suspects began.”

The ATC had indicted the seven suspects on Nov 25, 2011. They pleaded not guilty and the prosecution started producing evidence and calling witnesses against the suspects.

Mr Abbasi said that seven years after its commencement, the case was still at zero point and the prosecution would take another seven to eight years to repeat the exercise. “The interned accused cannot wait for such a long period and have the right to move the court for post-arrest bail,” he said.

The prosecution had no option but to seek a joint trial of Zafar along with the seven suspects, he added.

Zafar, a resident of Gujranwala district, was among 21 proclaimed offenders in the case. According to the court documents, the suspects who allegedly arranged funds for the attacks included under trial accused Jamil Ahmed and Mohammad Younis and proclaimed offenders Mohammad Usman Zia, Mukhtar Ahmed, Abbas Nasir and Javed Iqbal.

According to the papers, the accused “provided Rs3.98 million to co-accused Shahid Jamil Riaz through account no. 2338-2 of the MCB’s Drigh Road branch in Karachi and account no. 2464-0 of the Allied Bank’s Drigh Colony branch in Karachi…prior to the Mumbai terrorist attacks.”

The arrest of Zafar has been made at a time when the trial of the seven suspects is at a standstill due to a row between the governments of Pakistan and India over the testimony of 24 Indian witnesses.

In January, Islamabad asked the Indian government to send the 24 witnesses to Pakistan to testify against the seven suspects, including Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the attacks.

Lakhvi and the other suspects — Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hammad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younus Anjum — are being tried by the ATC in Islamabad.

The prosecution completed the testimony of the 68 Pakistani witnesses seven months ago. At a time when the ATC was about to conclude the proceedings, the prosecution filed an application for production of the survivors of the attacks, doctors who conducted post-mortem of the victims, terrorists who had carried out the attacks and witnesses to the attacks.

Criminal law expert Ahsanuddin Sheikh said the trial was being conducted under the ATA which had a provision of joint trial of the accused and the law had overriding effects.

A senior prosecutor in the case said that the prosecution would request the court to separately treat the case of Zafar. He said that Zafar faced the allegation of having transferred Rs14,000 to the bank account of his brother who was one of the accused.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2016