Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, was released from a Pakistani jail on bail Friday morning. He was granted bail by an anti-terrorism court in December and was supposed to be released March 13th, but a Pakistani court delayed the action due to the Taliban’s attack on a school in Peshawar that killed at least 145 people.
The Lahore High Court suspended the Punjab government’s detention order for 55-year-old Lakhvi and declared it illegal, calling for his immediate release. According to Lakhvi’s counsel Raja Rizwan Abbasi, the government had no other “legal option” but to free him and said “neither the government nor the Adiala Jail authorities can violate the court’s order this time.”
New Delhi responded harshly to Lakhvi’s release, asserting it erodes assurances Islamabad has given regarding cross-border terrorism. India’s Home Minister called the action “unfortunate and disappointing” while a spokesman for the ministry said the court’s decision is “an insult to victims of the 26/11 Mumbai attack.” Indian and Pakistan historically have a very combative, war-ridden relationship, and this event will only further tensions between the two.
The Mumbai Massacre, as the terrorist attacks are known by, was a series of twelve coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai, India’s most populous city, lasting four days from November 26th to November 29th. 172 people were killed with hundreds more wounded, and the attacks were carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a South Asian Islamist terror organization operating mainly from Pakistan.
Lakhvi is the alleged military chief of LeT and known as “chacha Zaki” by young recruits. He is accused of personally directing the Mumbai attackers by phone in Pakistan to carry out the coordinated violence. A spokesman for an LeT-linked charity, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, said Lakhvi is in a “secure place,” further indicating Lakhvi’s involvement with the terror group.
Pakistani intelligence is known to have worked with LeT, giving it financial and logistical support over the years. Furthermore, the country’s military is known to have close ties to the jihadist organization. Such dynamics have helped LeT survive since the group’s founding in 1990.
LeT’s reach, however, extends far beyond Pakistan to the United States. American David Headley was sentenced in 2013 to 35 years in prison for helping to plan the Mumbai attacks. Court documents detail that Headley trained at LeT camps in Pakistan from 2002 to 2005 and helped scout targets in Mumbai for the deadly plot.
Additionally, the Virginia Jihad Network was a jihadist network based in northern Virginia that caused a four-year federal investigation, which concluded in 2005 with the conviction of Ali Al-Timimi on terrorism charges.
There were several individuals within this organized movement who trained with, fought for, and/or provided material support to LeT, including 11 men charged in a U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Some of these individuals actually traveled to Pakistan to train at LeT camps.
The network was interestingly part of a larger paintball training “program” for Islamists, seemingly meant to train jihadists for combat. A U.S. government trial proved that LeT bought U.S. supplies to build military equipment through operatives in America and that an LeT official asked Masoud Khan – an LeT supporter who conspired to wage war against the U.S. – to buy him paintball equipment. Furthermore, Ismail Royer, an American involved the network who joined LeT, also had ties to the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim Brotherhood front group with terrorist associations.
Beyond the aforementioned networks, two brothers – Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and Hafiz Mohammed Masood – both of whom are clerics, have deep associations with LeT, and Masood lived in the U.S. for years. Masood is also spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which the U.S. calls a terrorist front group, and is a Muslim American Society leader, a Muslim Brotherhood group with ties to terrorism. Furthermore, his brother Saeed founded LeT, and the U.S. has a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
In September 2011, 24-year-old Jubair Ahmad, a Pakistani native residing in Woodbridge, VA, was arrested on charges of providing material support to LeT. According to the affidavit, Ahmad was indoctrinated and trained in Pakistan as a teenager before coming to the U.S. in 2007.
LeT evidently has a strong foothold in America and is not a problem confined to India and Pakistan. It is an Islamist terror group just like al-Qaeda or Boko Haram with the same goals of violence en route to domination. Therefore, the release of the group’s alleged military chief suspected of heading the Mumbai Massacre is concerning and raises questions about the Pakistan government’s commitment to eradicate terrorism. LeT is another indication that the U.S. and its allies face a global jihad movement that needs to be identified in order to be defeated.