A Pakistani man accused of aiding al-Qaeda and imprisoned in his home country for three years, has been released, according to his lawyer, and US officials made clear their dismay at the news on Monday.
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, 28, was released without charge, and turned up at his home in Karachi on Monday morning, his lawyer Babar Awan said. Khan had been included in a group of missing people, who were being held without charge in Pakistan and whose cases came before the Supreme Court on Monday.
Pakistan's deputy attorney general, Naheeda Mehboob Ilahi, was asked about Khan's whereabouts by the court and said he had already been released. Awan said his office later reached members of Khan's family who confirmed he had arrived home. He said he had not yet spoken to his client.
Khan was arrested at Lahore International Airport in July 2004 during a joint Pakistani-British operation. Soon after his arrest, Pakistani and US authorities said they had found files on his computer that led to the raising of the terrorism alert level in the US.
The authorities said the files included surveillance information on the World Bank and IMF in Washington, the Citigroup Tower and New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan and the Prudential Building in Newark, New Jersey.
The US officials declined to speak for the record about the release of Khan, apparently out of reluctance to criticize Pakistan, which has generally worked closely with the US in counterterrorism efforts.
"He most definitely had terrorist links," a US intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the US case against Khan was classified.
Yet it seems that the manner in which Pakistani officials handled his detention without charge for three years led to his release.
"He was never charged. Nobody knows under whose custody he was during all this time," Awan said in a telephone interview from Lahore on Tuesday. "He was kept in illegal confinement. He was never produced before any court and there was no indictment."
The Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice Mohammed Iftikhar Chaudhry, has taken the law enforcement ministries and intelligence agencies to task over the disappearance of hundreds of people since 2001. Many have been held without charge and often their families have no information of their whereabouts.
Chaudhry was suspended in March by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf but successfully fought to be resinstated and has returned to pursuing the cases of the disappeared among others since resuming his job on July 20.