Pakistan court acquits two over 2002 attack on French

6th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

In 2002 eleven French engineers where killed in a bombing, the two Pakistani men sentenced to death for the assisting of the suicide bombers were acquitted on Tuesday.

KARACHI – A Pakistan court Tuesday acquitted two men sentenced to death over a 2002 bombing that killed 11 French engineers, the highest number of Westerners to have died in a single attack in the country.

Asif Zaheer and Mohammad Rizwan, who allegedly belonged to Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group Harkatul Mujahideen al-Aalmi, were found guilty in 2003 of assisting the suicide attack which also killed three Pakistanis.

The Pakistani government vowed to appeal Tuesday's acquittals and officials doubted the men would be released because they were under investigation over a litany of other criminal and terror charges.

An anti-terror court convicted Zaheer and Rizwan on multiple counts of assisting the May 2002 attack outside the Sheraton Hotel in Pakistan's financial capital Karachi, and sentenced them to death and 50 years in prison.

A suicide bomber rammed a Toyota Corolla packed with 140 to 150 kilogrammes (300 to 330 pounds) into a bus as it collected the Frenchmen from the hotel. They were helping Pakistan build its first locally made submarine.

Zaheer and Rizwan appealed to the high court in the southern province of Sindh, which acquitted them Tuesday but made their release conditional on police not wanting them for other charges, officials said.

"After considering the material available on record we are of the considered view that the prosecution has failed to prove the case against the appellants beyond any reasonable doubt," said an order from the Sindh high court.

"The appellants are acquitted from the charges levelled against them and are at liberty. They shall be released forthwith if they are not required in any other custody matter," said the court order.

Defence lawyer Mohammad Farooq said police could not prove that his clients belonged to the banned extremist group, but feared they could be re-arrested.

"I have not got the release order so far because we fear they will be re-arrested on other charges," said Farooq.

Yousuf Laghari, the top judicial government official in Sindh, vowed to appeal the verdicts at the Pakistani supreme court.

"We'll challenge the high court's decision in the supreme court soon," said Laghari. "I have conveyed this to French embassy officials," he said.

A third man, Mohammad Sohail, who was sentenced to death in absentia in 2003 over the bombing, has also challenged the verdict and is undergoing a re-trial, Farooq told AFP.

Police said that in initial interrogation, Sohail confessed to a role in the 2002 killing of US journalist Daniel Pearl and a failed December 2003 bomb attack on then Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's motorcade.

Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi in January 2002 while writing about Islamist militancy in nuclear-armed Pakistan. A video showing his beheading was delivered to the US consulate in the city nearly a month later.

Investigators have said Sohail, who was said to be a senior member of a militant group called Harkat Jihad-e-Islami, could be the cameraman who made the video of Pearl's killing.

AFP / Expatica

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