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Court acquits man sentenced over 2002 attack on French engineers

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-10-30

Due to a "lack of substantial evidence", a Pakistani court on Friday acquitted a man who was sentenced to death over a 2002 bombing that killed 11 French engineers in Karachi.

AFP - A Pakistan court Friday acquitted a man 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.

Mohammad Sohail Habib, who allegedly belonged to Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group Harkatul Mujahideen al-Aalmi, was sentenced to death in his absence in 2003 for assisting the suicide attack which also killed three Pakistanis.

Sohail was arrested in 2005 but was acquitted after a six-month re-trial in an anti-terrorism court ordered on appeal by the high court, officials said.

"The accused has been acquitted due to a lack of substantial evidence on the part of the prosecution," defence lawyer Ovais Jamal told AFP.

In his order Judge Abdul Ghafoor Memon said: "The court heard arguments from both the sides and hereby acquits the accused as the prosecution does not provide any substantial evidence against him."

The government in southern province Sindh vowed to appeal the verdict.

"We'll challenge the decision in the high court soon," said Yousuf Laghari, the top judicial official in the provincial government.

Sohail was convicted of assisting the May 2002 attack outside the Sheraton Hotel in Pakistan's financial capital Karachi.

The anti-terrorism court court also convicted Asif Zaheer and Mohammad Rizwan on multiple counts of assisting the attack, and sentenced them respectively to death and 50 years in prison.

They were acquitted by the high court in Sindh in May on the grounds that the prosecution "failed to prove the case against the accused" -- decisions that the government is also challenging in the supreme court.

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 had been helping Pakistan build its first locally-made submarine.

The judge on Friday made Sohail's release conditional on police not wanting him for other charges, his defence lawyer said.

Police said however that in initial interrogations, 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.

Date created : 2009-10-30

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