Pakistan's court sentences Taliban commander to life in prison

A Pakistani court has sentenced top Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah to life in prison in absentia for attempting to kill Pakistani hard-line cleric and lawmaker Maulana Mohammed Khan Shirani last year, a lawyer said Thursday. Dadullah, who is believed hiding in Afghanistan, was convicted on Wednesday by the court in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province. He had been charged with trying to assassinate Shirani in July 2004 as the lawmaker traveled on a road to his home constituency, said Kamran Murtaza, the lawyer for Shirani.

Shirani, his three aides and his driver escaped unhurt. Murtaza said Judge Abdul Ghayas also convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison three Afghan nationals, alleged supporters of Dadulla, and two Pakistanis who were present in the court and who confessed to involvement in the attack. One Pakistani was acquitted for lack of evidence, he said.

Murtaza said the two convicted Pakistanis had told the court during the trial that they had carried out the attack against Shirani after receiving orders from Dadullah. Shirani was the only man in his Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party who opposed the Taliban and criticized some of their actions.

But Shirani, a senior figure in a six-party pro-Taliban religious coalition, also opposed President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's decision to back the U.S.-led military campaign and drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in late 2001. No one claimed responsibility for the 2004 attack, but police seized a remote-control bomb. At the time, authorities suspected Dadullah in the attack.

Shirani is a member of Pakistan's Parliament from Qila Saifullah, a conservative district along the border with Afghanistan. On Thursday, Shirani, who himself never blamed Dadullah for the attack, told The Associated Press that he had no idea why he had been attacked. "I don't know why these unfortunate people did it. I have no enmity with anyone," he said.

Dadullah, who lost a leg fighting for the Taliban during its rise to power in the mid-1990s, is one of the hard-line militia's top commanders, responsible for operations in eastern and southeastern Afghanistan, and as such, a man wanted by the U.S.-led coalition hunting Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, reports the AP. I.L.

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