Pakistan has released a senior terrorist with links to al-Qaida, raising more questions about Islamabad's willingness to combat jihadist terror. The News, a Pakistani newspaper, reported that Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who allegedly tried to assassinate prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in October 2007, was freed last month. He had been arrested in February 2008 in connection with Bhutto's murder by Pakistani jihadists, which occurred in December 2007.
In her posthumously published book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West, Mrs. Bhutto wrote that Akhtar had been involved in planning twin suicide bombings targeting her welcome procession in Karachi on October 18, 2007. She was told about a meeting in Lahore in which Pakistani officials plotted to kill her. To carry out the attack, they turned to Akhtar, who was languishing in a Pakistan jail. He had been extradited there by the United Arab Emirates for trial on charges of plotting to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in December 2003.
"The officials in Lahore had turned to Akhtar for help. His liaison with elements in the government was a radical who was asked to make the bombs and he himself asked for a fatwa making it legitimate to oblige. He got one. The bomb blasts took place in the army cantonment area in Karachi," Mrs. Bhutto wrote.
Akhtar is the leader of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami ( HUJI, or the Movement of Islamic Holy War). Long War Journal has a superb primer on HUJI and Akhtar. Both have worked with the Taliban and al-Qaida for more than a decade.
Akhtar has headed the group for more than 25 years. In Afghanistan, "he became a close confidant and advisor to Taliban leader Mullah Omar," according to Long War Journal. "Akhtar accompanied Mullah Omar as he fled the U.S. onslaught during Operation Enduring Freedom."