Twenty-four years after 257 persons were killed and 713 injured in the first serial blasts in the city of Mumbai in 1993, six men were convicted by a special court on Friday. The accused include Mustafa Dossa, Abu Salem, Taher Merchant, Feroz Abdul Rashid Khan, Karimullah Khan and Riyaz Siddiqui.
Abdul Qayyum Sheikh, who was arrested in 2007 by the Mumbai police, was acquitted by special Judge G A Sanap. The court observed that the evidence against Qayyum was not “credible” or “acceptable.” While the court convicted five of the accused under the common charge of criminal conspiracy, it acquitted Siddiqui of the charges, finding him guilty only under one section of the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. The court will begin hearing arguments on the quantum of punishment for each of the six convicts from next week.
The five convicted for criminal conspiracy, including Dossa and Salem, face the maximum punishment of death. While the CBI sought that each of the men will be charged under Section 121 of IPC for waging a war against the country, the court ruled that “it cannot be accepted” and held all the men not guilty under the charge.
On March 12, 1993, between 1.30 pm and 3.40 pm, 12 successive bomb explosions took place at 12 different places. The first bomb went off at the Bombay Stock Exchange. The other spots include Katha Bazaar, Lucky petrol pump near Sena Bhavan in Dadar, opposite the passport office near Century Bazaar in Worli, Fishermen’s colony in Mahim, the basement of Air India building in Nariman Point, Zaveri Bazaar, Hotel Sea Rock, Plaza theatre, Centaur hotel in Juhu, Sahar airport and Centaur Hotel at the airport.
The CBI claimed that the blasts were planned as retaliation to the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and the subsequent communal violence in the city. While from 1994 to 2006-07, 123 accused were prosecuted before the special TADA court, including Yakub Memon and actor Sanjay Dutt, the trial of the current seven accused was separated from them as they were arrested during and after the end of the earlier trial between 2003 and 2010.
On Friday, after the men were produced before the court from Arthur Road Jail and Taloja central prison, the judge entered the packed courtroom at 12.20 pm to pronounce the verdict.
He began reading out the judgment stating that the oral and documentary evidence in the case had “crystallised” the role and liability of the accused facing trial. Since each of the seven men were accused by the CBI of being part of different aspects of the conspiracy, the court elaborated on the “act of conspiracy.”
“For an offence of conspiracy, it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove that the conspirators expressly agreed to do an act. It is also not necessary that each member of the conspiracy should know all the details,” Judge Sanap said. He then called out the names of the accused starting with Dossa.
Observing that he was part of the first conspiracy meeting held in Dubai at the house of his brother Mohammed, the court said that Dossa was a member of the “core group of conspirators’. “It is proved that the accused Mustafa Dossa for achieving the object of the main conspiracy, took the first step and sent arms and ammunition from Dubai/Pakistan to Dighi Jetty on January 9, 1993,” the court said.
The consignment sent by Dossa included arms, ammunition and RDX (Research Department Explosive i.e cyclotrimethylene-trinitramine) which the CBI claimed was the first ever terrorist attack in the world where the explosive was used on such a large scale after World War II. The court announced that the evidence by the CBI was also enough to convict Feroz, the second name on the accused list.
During the trial, Feroz had claimed that he was actually a man named Hamza Khan and that his arrest was a case of mistaken identity. “Feroz is not Hamza as claimed by him. He is the same Feroz Abdul Rashid Khan, who was declared a proclaimed offender in this case in 1993,” the court said. The court 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 also convicted third accused Taher Merchant calling him a “main conspirator” who, initially, worked with “the brain” behind the blasts Tiger Memon. The court said that he had been part of several conspiratorial meetings held in Dubai and had arranged green channel entry of several co-accused to Pakistan for arms and ammunition training. The court also convicted Karimullah Khan stating he had knowledge of the conspiracy since he was part of the arms landing as well as one conspiracy meeting where Memon had discussed taking revenge for the post-Babri demolition riots.
Further, the court began the sentencing of gangster Abu Salem, who sported a cropped haircut and sat at one end of the accused box. Salem, too, was convicted by the court. “The accused Abu Salem given his close proximity and endearment to the main conspirators, Anees Ibrahim and Mustafa Dossa, took it upon himself to bring some part of the arms and ammunition that were smuggled into India…were transported to and concealed in various places,” the court said.
Salem was convicted for giving arms and ammunition to actor Sanjay Dutt who was convicted under the Arms Act and sentenced to five years imprisonment by the Supreme Court. The court convicted all five men under the common charge of criminal conspiracy under Section 120B, 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and other relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, TADA Act, Explosive Substances Act, Explosives Act and Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.
The sixth accused, Riyaz Siddiqui, who was charged with providing a vehicle to Salem for transporting the vehicles, was acquitted of criminal conspiracy and other charges. The court observed that the prosecution had “failed to prove the charge of conspiracy” against him but he was convicted under section 3 (3) of the TADA(P) Act.
The last name, Judge Sanap took, was that of Sheikh, who the court said the CBI had failed to prove any charge against. Arrested in 2007, the court observed that Sheikh could not be kept under further detention and can be released on a bond. To the only elated face in the accused box, the court said that Sheikh would have to be present before the court during the pronouncement of sentencing. He was also directed to not leave Mumbai without the court’s permission. Special CBI counsel Deepak Salvi sought time till Monday to prepare to argue on the quantum of punishment.
With the judgment declared in the case, 33 absconding accused including main conspirators Dawood Ibrahim, Anees Ibrahim, Tiger Memon and Mohammed Dossa, still remain to be arrested and prosecuted.