A radical anti-US cleric imprisoned in Pakistan since 2009 has been released from jail on health grounds, his lawyer and prison authorities have said.
Sufi Mohammad, 93, is a former chief of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a banned pro-Taliban group. He became widely known after he went to Afghanistan with thousands of other armed volunteers to help the Taliban fight against Americans after the 2001 US-led invasion. He was captured upon his return to Pakistan.
Mohammad is the father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan.
Mohammad’s lawyer, Fida Gul, said the cleric was released on Monday night and his family had taken him to hospital.
Islamabad has for years tolerated Mohammad’s activities. His followers have staged protests and blocked highways in north-western Pakistan to press the government to enforce Islamic laws.
The release may further strain ties between Islamabad and Washington. Donald Trump has previously accused Pakistan of sheltering militants, charges that Islamabad denies. In 2001 Mohammad issued a fatwa for holy war against US-led forces in Afghanistan.
At a gathering of clerics in Islamabad on Tuesday, Pakistan’s president, Mamnoon Hussain, appealed to the clerics for help to fight extremism more effectively. The interior minister, Ahsan Iqbal, told the clerics that only the state had the authority to issue fatwas on jihad.