Ultra's release stirs questions in Pak

He allegedly ran terrorist training camps there when the Taliban was in power. He was suspected of involvement in the attempted assassination of two Pakistani leaders. And today, Qari Saifullah Akhtar is free.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, the top judicial official in Akhtar’s native Punjab province, told The Associated Press he was released from four months of house arrest in early December because authorities finished questioning him in connection with the October 2007 attempted assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and found no grounds to charge him. Bhutto was killed in December the same year.

However, one US official said Akhtar has extensive ties to the al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and is someone who should not be free to walk around the streets of Pakistan or any other country.

Former US intelligence officials and analysts said Akhtar’s release is yet another sign of Pakistan’s reluctance or inability to crack down on the most dangerous terrorist organisations.

Lashkar-e-Toiba leader Hafiz Saeed was freed from custody on more than one occasion and is currently free. The LeT, headquartered in Punjab, is believed to be the mastermind behind the November 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

As part of Pakistan’s battle with India, the military and intelligence helped train and arm militant groups who fought in the disputed Kashmir region. Many of those groups cut their teeth on guerrilla warfare in the US-backed 1980s insurgent war against Russian soldiers in Afghanistan.

But military and intelligence officials have told the AP their relationship with such groups was severed after the September 11, 2001 attacks, which marked a turning point that moved Pakistan into a closer alliance with the US. However, there are lingering concerns that some links with militants remain.

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