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Twenty-four years after a series of bomb blasts ripped through Mumbai, killing 257 people and leaving 713 injured, a special court Thursday handed the death penalty to two of the accused and life imprisonment to two more, including extradited gangster Abu Salem. Of the six convicted by the special Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act court on June 16, Taher Merchant and Feroz Abdul Rashid Khan were sentenced to death; Salem and Karimullah Khan were handed concurrent life sentences on two separate counts each; and, Riyaz Siddiqui got 10 years’ imprisonment. Mustafa Dossa died less than a fortnight after the conviction four months ago.
Siddiqui, who has already spent over 12 years in prison, will continue to remain in jail as he was convicted last week in the murder of Mumbai builder Pradeep Jain. Siddiqui faces a minimum of life imprisonment in the case. The TADA court had let off a seventh accused, Abdul Quayyum, for want of evidence. This was the second leg of the trial.
The CBI had sought death sentences for Feroz, Merchant and Karimullah while seeking life for Salem and Siddiqui.
All the seven accused were facing multiple charges, which included criminal conspiracy, waging war against the state and murder. The accused said they will be filing appeals against the order before the Supreme Court.
Karimullah Khan’s son, Shazib, said the family had been prepared for the worst but did not expect a life sentence. “Other accused, whose role in the conspiracy is greater, have been given less severe punishment,” said the 22-year-old.
A relative of Taher Merchant said the family would file an appeal at the earliest. Legal representatives of Salem said the life sentence is in violation of the extradition treaty with Portugal and that they would file an appeal in the European Union.
The CBI had argued that though Salem’s role was that of one of the “main conspirators”, he should not be given the death sentence as it would be against the provisions of the Indian Extradition Act.
In the 2,164-page judgment, Special Judge G A Sanap observed that Merchant by remaining in Dubai had deprived the investigating agency of necessary assistance. In June, while convicting Merchant, the court had called him a “main conspirator” who in the initial part of the conspiracy worked with “the brain” behind the blasts, Tiger Memon.
The court further said that he had been part of several conspiratorial meetings held in Dubai and had also arranged for the entry of several co-accused to Pakistan for training in arms and ammunition.
On granting Karimullah life imprisonment while giving Feroz death, the court said that there can be no comparison in their roles. “Feroz comes from a well-educated family. His father was a petty officer in the Indian Navy. So the role of the two is not comparable. Karimullah hails from a lower strata, with no educational background… Feroz was a partner with the Dossa brothers,” the court said.
“Offences and offenders of terrorism need to be dealt with sternly. Further generations need to be saved from the menace of terrorism. A lenient view in such cases can weaken the fight and collect efforts to combat terrorism,” the court said.
On RDX and arms brought to Mumbai for the attack, the court observed that the offenders had knowledge of the offence.
“It is necessary to mention that RDX cannot be used as a powder to kill mosquitoes and flies and it cannot be assumed that AK 56 rifles were being distributed in schools in Bombay as toys,” the court said.
The court also observed that it is necessary to note that the conspirators and perpetrators of the crime rejoiced at the success of the crime.
Judge Sanap had in June observed that Feroz was “a prominent member” of the Dossa gang and was “actively involved” in smuggling the arms and ammunition to India. The court had also refused to accept Feroz’s defence that his was a case of mistaken identity and that he was a man named Hamza.
The special court also said that the fine amount levied on the accused was “meagre” and “inadequate” for victims. It has directed the District Legal Services Authority to recommend adequate compensation.
It has also directed the SP (CBI) to trace injured and disabled victims as well as kin of the deceased victims who are not included in the list submitted earlier by the CBI. The CBI had submitted a list naming 232 dead and 613 injured.
On Thursday, the convicts spent a long day in court, being escorted back to prison only at 11 pm after copies of the judgment were given to them.
On March 12, 1993, 12 devices exploded across Mumbai between 1.30 pm and 3.40 pm, the first at Bombay Stock Exchange followed by the rest at Katha Bazaar, Lucky Petrol Pump near Sena Bhavan in Dadar, opposite the passport office near Century Bazaar in Worli, the fishermen’s colony in Mahim, the basement of the Air India building in Nariman Point, Zaveri Bazaar, Hotel Sea Rock in Bandra, Plaza Cinema in Dadar and Centaur Hotel in Juhu.
The CBI claimed that the blasts were planned and executed in retaliation for the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya in December 1992 and the subsequent communal violence in Mumbai.
No marriage for Salem
The special court disposed of the application of Abu Salem seeking permission to marry. The application was filed by a Mumbra-based woman after reports claimed that the gangster had married her on board a train while being escorted for a hearing. The court observed that the application should be disposed of since it is “infructuous”. The court also rejected Salem’s application seeking to be transferred to a prison outside Maharashtra, preferably Uttar Pradesh, on the same grounds.