In a possible setback to the trial of the seven suspects arrested by the Pakistan police for their involvement in the terror attack on Mumbai, the judge hearing the case has said he can no longer continue with the proceedings.
Citing 'unavoidable reasons', Judge Baqir Ali Rana of the anti-terrorism court, who has been conducting the trial within the high-security Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, has requested the Lahore High Court to excuse him from hearing the case.
Rana sent a formal request to the chief justice of the Lahore High Court on Tuesday, saying he could not continue with the proceedings because of 'unavoidable reasons'. The request is currently pending with the chief justice's office, officials said.
However, sources said that Rana took the step as he felt he was under pressure from the government and other quarters about the trial, which involved key Lashker-e-Taiba operatives Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah.
Rana was also facing pressure from the lawyers of the seven suspects, who are unhappy about the trial being conducted in-camera, added the sources. The judge felt his position had been made 'vulnerable' because of the move to conduct the proceedings behind closed doors.
Reports also claimed that Rana has received threats from the LeT, because the suspects were indicted in the absence of their lawyers, during a hearing on October 10.
The hearing on October 10 coincided with an attack on the Pakistan army's headquarters in Rawalpindi by a group of terrorists. Rana reportedly said that since the situation outside the court was uncertain, those who wanted to leave the premises could do so.
Once the lawyers left the courtroom, the suspects were formally indicted by the court. Their lawyers boycotted the subsequent hearing on October 17 to protest the court's move. The trial is being conducted at Adiala Jail due to security concerns and the media has been barred from attending the proceedings.
Rana was appointed the judge for the Mumbai terror attack case in July, after the previous judge was removed as part of judicial reforms. Before his appointment, proceedings were stalled for over a month, as the case didn't have a judge to preside over the trial.
The seven suspects -- Lakhvi, Shah, Abu al-Qama, Hamad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jamil Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younas Anjum -- have been booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act. They have been accused of training and providing financial support, accommodation, equipment and communications gear to the ten terrorists who attacked Mumbai in November last year.
The next hearing of the case is scheduled to be held on October 24.