New Delhi: The Supreme Court may have sentenced the key accused in the 1993 blasts case to rigourous punishments, including death for Yakub Memon, but India is yet to lay its hands on its masterminds, Dawood Ibrahim and Yakub's brother, 'Tiger' Memon. The fugitive duo is believed to be hiding in Pakistan, although Islambad refuses to acknowledge it.
In his statement to the police, Dawood Phanse, an aide of Dawood Ibrahim, had confessed that the meeting to plan and execute the blasts was held at the underworld don's residence in Dubai. He added that 'Tiger' Memon and he were present at the meeting.
The blasts occurred just three months after the painful Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 and according to police officials, were a revenge attack. Maharashtra ATS chief Rakesh Maria on Thursday said that the duo had planned to execute the blasts in April, but following the arrest of a key conspirator, decided to execute their nefarious plan in advance.
Twenty years since the blasts, India has failed to arrest the two masterminds. The fugitive duo is believed to be hiding in Pakistan.
Also, according to the original plan, the bomb blasts were to coincide with Shiv Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Maratha warrior Shivaji, Maria said. "The plan was to trigger bomb blasts in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and other parts of the country in April and not in March. But Tiger Memon advanced it (and only Mumbai was targeted)," he added.
According to Maria, Memon had received Rs 10 lakh and 12 lakh through hawala (illegal channel of transmitting money) from the Gulf on March 10 and 11 respectively. Also, he had received USD 60,771 three months prior to the blasts. The funds were subsequently used by Memon for arranging vehicles, explosives, training his men to handle explosives and firing, among others, he said. The serial blasts had claimed 257 lives and left 713 injured.
The Supreme Court on Thursday sentenced Yakub Memon to death and commuted the death sentence of 10 others to life term. Yakub has been in jail since he returned to India and surrendered in 1994 and he has been convicted of proving the explosives and weapons to the other convicts to carry out the carnage.
The apex court also upheld Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt's conviction under the Arms Act but reduced his sentence from six years to five. Dutt has already undergone 18 months of imprisonment and will now be in jail for 3.5 years.
The court found the actor guilty of acquiring illegal weapons from those blamed for the bombings in Mumbai that killed 257 people and was given four weeks to surrender. He has already served 18 months in jail. In 2007, Dutt was cleared of conspiracy charges in the Mumbai serial blasts but was found guilty of illegal possession of an AK-56 rifle and a pistol.
Reacting to the Supreme Court's judgement, Dutt said, "Will see the copy and now I am looking for legal options. I still believe in the judiciary, my family is with me and I am still strong."
Dutt's counsel Satish Maneshinde said he spoke to the actor who accepted the judgement as it is. "I have spoken to Sanjay Dutt. We accept the judgement as it is. Sanjay Dutt has said that he has accepted the judgement with humility. Another three and a half years are left, will see whatever happens as and when. Sanjay Dutt is strong enough. We will have to see what the court has said after seeing the judgement," he said. His sister Priya Dutt, who reached the court early on Thursday morning, said after the court verdict, "I do not know what to say."
The court also upheld life terms of 16 out of 18 convicts sentenced by the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court.
While commuting the death sentence of 10 convicts to life imprisonment, the Supreme Court observed that were used to only plant the bombs and were not involved in planning the terror strike. The court also said that the 10 bomb planters were from a weak economic background and they had been behind bars for 20 years.
Pointing to the Pakistan's hand behind the carnage, the Supreme Court said that that the training of convicts materialised in Pakistan. The management and conspiracy of the 1993 blasts were done by underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and others in Pakistan and its intelligence agency ISI was involved in carrying out the strike, the court observed.
"Yakub Memon and all absconding accused including Dawood Ibrahim were archers and rest of the accused were arrows in their hands," the Supreme Court said. The court also blamed the police, customs and coastal guards for the blasts.
The 1993 Mumbai blasts case investigation had spanned several months leading to the arrest of 123 accused and numerous others including Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger Memon and several others were named as wanted accused.
The trial had began in April 1994 under the stringent Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) while the first witness deposed in June 1995. The mammoth trial went on for 14 long years at Arthur Road Prison in Mumbai as over 600 witnesses were examined.
In December 2006, 100 accused were convicted while 23 were acquitted by the TADA court. Twelve of the accused were handed out the capital punishment, while 20 others got a life sentence. After a marathon 10-month-long hearing beginning November 1, 2011, the Supreme Court had in August 2012 reserved its verdict on appeals and cross-appeals in the 1993 Mumbai serial terror bombing case in which 257 people were killed and 713 were injured.
Dutt was convicted under the Arms Act while he escaped conviction under TADA. He was handed out an imprisonment of six years and was out on bail. Seven more accused including extradited gangster Abu Salem are currently being tried for their roles in the blasts.
The Supreme Court's verdict on Thursday brings to an end the two-decade-long chapter of Mumbai's tryst with terror and with it perhaps bring closure to the horror of one of the maximum's city's darkest Friday. On March 12, 1993, Mumbai was rocked by a series of blasts which also damaged property worth over Rs 27 crore.
(With Additional Inputs From PTI)