Pakistan court adjourns 26/11 case till March 5

Islamabad: A Pakistani court on Saturday adjourned till March 5 the trial of LeT`s Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and six other suspects charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks after hearing arguments by defence and prosecution lawyers on a move to declare Ajmal Kasab and Fahim Ansari as fugitives.

Prosecutors from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) renewed their request to the Rawalpindi-based anti-terrorism court to declare Kasab, the lone surviving attacker, and terror suspect Ansari as "proclaimed offenders" or fugitives and issue arrest warrants for them.

The prosecutors had initially filed the request in May last year.

They were forced to withdraw a petition on the same issue in the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court on Thursday after a bench observed that Kasab and Ansari were not wilfully absconding and could not be declared fugitives.

The High Court also asked the prosecutors to take up the issue with the anti-terrorism court.

During today`s proceedings conducted by Judge Rana Nisar Ahmed, lawyers defending the seven suspects filed an application in which they sought the start of trial proceedings and recording of evidence against the accused.

The application said the trial proceedings should start as soon as possible after the anti-terrorism court gave its verdict on the prosecution`s request to declare Kasab and Ansari as fugitives.

The application was filed under section 403 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Article 13 of the Constitution.

Both provisions state that no person can be prosecuted or punished for the same offence more than once.

Khwaja Sultan, the lawyer for Lashker-e-Taiba operations commander Lakhvi, told the judge that an Indian court had already given a verdict against Kasab and he could not be tried twice for the same crime.

Sultan argued that if the issue of declaring Kasab and Ansari as fugitives dominates proceedings in the anti-terrorism case, the case would never end.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Ahmed adjourned the case till March 5.

Kasab, a Pakistani national, was sentenced to death by a court in Mumbai for his role in the attacks on India`s financial hub that killed 166 people in November 2008.

Ansari, an Indian national, was acquitted by the same court but continues to be in custody in connection with other cases.

The trial of the seven Pakistani suspects, a majority of them LeT operatives, has been marred by repeated delays over technical matters.

The judge has been changed thrice and only one of the more than 160 prosecution witnesses has testified so far.