A man suspected of the worst terrorist attacks in India’s recent history was released from a Pakistani prison Thursday, in defiance of the Indian government's wishes. Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is the suspected mastermind of the attacks in Mumbai that left 166 people dead in November 2008.
The attack shattered peace efforts between India and Pakistan, which have not resumed to this day. Lakhvi’s release is a major blow to both the relationship between the neighboring countries and the victims’ families, Indian authorities said.
"India wants talks with Pakistan, but the present development is unfortunate and disappointing,” said Home Minister Rajnath Singh, according Indian news outlet the Hindu.
On Nov. 26, 2008, 10 armed terrorists, reportedly from Pakistan, came to Mumbai by sea in inflatable boats and conducted 12 simultaneous shootings and bombings in several areas of the vast city, India's financial capital. Among the areas hit were two of the city's top luxury hotels, a tourist cafe, a hospital in south Mumbai, a Jewish community center and a movie theater. The highest number of victims in one location, 58, was at a historic railway station, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Five bombs detonated at the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers and another at the Oberoi Hotel next door, while gunmen kept hundreds of guests hostage. At least 31 people were killed at the hotels.
A spokesperson for the Indian Home Ministry said that the release “is a very disappointing announcement. An insult to the victims of (the) 26/11 Mumbai attack. The global community should take serious note of Pakistan's double-speak on terrorism."
India accused Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant group led by Lakhvi, of carrying out the attack. According to a spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an organization with alleged ties to Lakhvi’s group, Lakhvi is "free now and in a secure place. "We can't say exactly where is he at the moment for security reasons,” the spokesman told AFP.
Dozens of Jamaat-ud-Dawa members were present at the jail when Lakhvi was released and he left with them on Thursday evening, according to the Times of India.
Last December Lakhvi was granted bail but remained detained under Pakistan’s Maintenance of Public Order legislation. The Lahore High Court released the 55-year-old terror suspect when the government’s counsel failed to present necessary documents to the court, according to the Hindu.
“The law officer had submitted important information about Lakhvi, but the court did not accept this and declared the evidence unsatisfactory,” an official at the Lahore High Court told the Press Trust of India.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Lakhvi’s bail was "a shock to all those who believe in humanity.”