Mumbai: Six years after the twin blasts at Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar, which left 53 people dead, a special POTA Court in Mumbai has sentenced three convicted persons - Mohammed Hanif Sayed, his wife Fahimida and Ashrat Shafique Ansari - to death.
The prosecution said that this was the rarest of rare case. Prosecution had asked for a death sentence for all three convicts in the last hearing, pointing out the blasts were carried out with "exceptional cruelty". The prosecution also said that the twin blasts were a gruesome crime.
After the sentencing, Special Public Prosecutor for the 1993 Mumbai blasts case, Ujjwal Nikam said that 54 people lost their lives in the twin blasts.
Arguing for the death penalty, Nikam had said they intended to target foreign tourists who throng the Gateway of India and the famous Mahalaxmi Temple. However, since their vehicle developed a snag, the second blast took place in Zaveri Bazaar, the hub of the jewellery trade in the city.
"This is a significant judgement. It's because of these 'devils' that 54 persons lost their lives and another 244 were injured," Nikam, who led the prosecution case during the six-year trial, said.
He revealed that the three convicts have been sentenced under Indian penal Code Sections 302 and 307, and Explosives Substance Act.
"The conspiracy was hatched in Dubai and some Pakistani nationals were also involved. The bomb that was planted in Ghatkopar was of less intensity. That is why they planned to carry out blasts in Zaveri Bazaar and Gateway of India. There was also a conspiracy to carry out blasts at Mumba Devi Temple," said Nikam.
Ujjwal Nikam had said that the sentence was a "big blow to Lashakr-e-Toiba with the three accused being convicted". The three had been convicted under POTA section 3(5).
"They planned to put a bomb in a BEST bus on December 2, 2002 but it did not go off. They then put a bomb again in a BEST bus in July 2003 and two people were killed in the explosion. But their commaders allegedly told them to plan high-intensity blasts. That's how Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar blasts happened. It's the first case where a family - husband, wife and their daughter - were involved in the attack," Nikam had said.
A terror module of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) outfit was allegedly involved in planting the powerful bombs in two cabs and triggering them by timers on August 25, 2003.
It was one of the most awaited judgement in a terrorist case after the Special TADA Court completed the March 2, 1993, serial blasts trial in 2007 which led to the conviction of 100 people, including Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, now a Samajwadi Party leader.
The court observed that "it was the murder charges levelled against the the three that led the court to give death penalty".
Defence lawyers -- Wahab Khan (representing Hanif), Sudesh Pasgola (Fahimida) and S. Kunjuraman (Ashrat) -- had said their clients were innocent.
"This is a baseless and meaningless judgement. There is not an iota of evidence against my client (Ashrat) to hold him guilty. I shall move the Bombay High Court," Kunjuraman said after the ruling came in.
Khan had argued that this was not "the rarest of rare cases" so it did not warrant the death penalty.
"My client had no personal grudge against any of the victims in the incidents, they were simply misguided and indoctrinated," Khan had said.
Defence had also argued that Fahmida should be given a lenient sentence as she followed the orders of her husband and that she had her children to look after but the argument was rejected by the court.
NEXT PAGE: History of the 2003 Mumbai blasts
HISTORY OF THE CASE
Soon after the twin blasts, Mumbai police arrested six people including one woman.
The accused were Mohammed Hanif Sayed, his wife Fahimida, Ashrat Shafique Ansari, Zahid Yusuf Patni, Rizwan Laddoowala and A Shaikh Batterywala.
Sayed's daughter Farheen was also arrested but was then let off almost immediately by the POTA court for lack of evidence.
The chargesheet filed on February 5, 2004 accuses them of conspiring with the Lashkar-e-Toiba to carry out terror strikes in the country. Police found that the conspiracy was hatched in Dubai and the motive was allegedly to avenge the 2002 Gujarat riots.
One of the accused, Zahid Yusuf Patni turned approver in June 2004 and confessed to his role in the attacks. He revealed how he lived and worked in Dubai where he met Hanif, who had gone there to work as an electrician. There they met some other persons who provoked them "to take revenge for the Gujarat riots of 2002".
After hatching the blasts conspiracy in Dubai, they prepared themselves for the assignment with all the required resources and finally carried out the terror strikes in Mumbai.
In 2008, Laddoowala and Batterywala were let off for lack of evidence. The matter was challenged before the Supreme Court which finally ordered their discharge in November 2008, proving a setback to the prosecution case, spearheaded by Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam.
A total of 103 witnesses were examined, prime among them a taxi driver whose vehicle was used to plant the bomb.
Three Special POTA Judges conducted the trial – AP Bhangale, SS Joshi and currently, Special Judge Puranik.
WHO SAID WHAT
A victim of the blasts, Rajin Ranjan Mahto says, "I am very happy that they have been sentenced to death. Had it been done two or three years earlier, it would have been better. I was very close to blast site at Gateway of India but I survived the blast since I was behind some tourists. There were people who died instantly. I was in the hospital for four months after that. The accused have children, but they have to realise that those who died in the blast had family members to take care of as well. Considering this, they have been awarded appropriately."
Suresh Wallishetty, who was the ACP at the time of the blasts, welcomed the sentence too. He said, "I am happy with the judgment and very proud of the Mumbai Police. In this case, we had very good recovery and technical evidence. There were good witnesess, all of whom deposed before the court."