Page last updated at 11:09 GMT, Wednesday, 15 April 2009 12:09 UK

Pakistan Red Mosque cleric bailed

Maulana Abdul Aziz
Mr Aziz is expected to be released soon

Pakistan's Supreme Court has ordered the release of a hardline Islamic cleric arrested when soldiers stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad in 2007.

A lawyer for the cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, said his client had been granted bail while the court considered charges against him.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan In Islamabad says it is not clear yet whether he has been released from detention.

Mr Aziz escaped from the mosque in a burka shortly before it was stormed.

But he was detained soon after.

Liberal judgements

The raid on the mosque was prompted by the presence inside the building of dozens of heavily-armed militants. More than 100 people were killed in the ensuing battle.

Students surrender to police outside Lal Masjid 5 July 2007
The storming of the Red Mosque shook Islamabad in 2007

Our correspondent says that there is no suggestion that the cleric's bail is connected to the reappointment of Iftikhar Chaudhry last month as chief justice of Pakistan.

Before his dismissal as chief justice by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007, Mr Chaudhry had a reputation for making liberal judgements and rulings that were unpopular with the government.

Our correspondent says that Mr Aziz's impending release comes at a bad time for current President Asif Ali Zardari who is struggling to control increasing militancy in the north-west of the country.

Mr Aziz was granted bail by the high court in Islamabad in four cases nearly a year ago on condition that he pay 500,000 rupees (about $6,214).

In all 27 cases were brought against him initially - ranging from abetting terrorists to illegally occupying a building.

Pakistan has a history of failing to prosecute militants, many of whom are believed to have once had links with the country's armed forces.

The storming of the Red Mosque angered Islamic hardliners, who launched a series of suicide bombings and other attacks on the government and security forces in the months after it took place.

They have continued almost unabated since then, alarming Pakistan's Western allies who are concerned about stability in the nuclear-armed state.

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