FOUR YEARS after they were accused of being part of a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) plot to recruit young Indian Muslims, 13 of the 22 men named in the case — many of them doctors and engineers — have pleaded guilty. They were all convicted by a special court in Bengaluru on Thursday. The quantum of punishment will be pronounced on Friday.
The 13 men — most of them incarcerated for the last four years after courts turned down their bail pleas — pleaded guilty on September 1, during the early stage of the trial. They ascribed their decision to fears that a protracted trial could take away many years of their lives.
Since the start of the trial last year, only 14 of the 240 witnesses have been examined so far.
Despite the special terrorism court stating that a guilty plea would have adverse consequences on their personal records, the men stuck to their decision. The judge, Muralidhar Pai, recorded the guilty plea after speaking to each of them in private to ascertain their reasons.
The men faced charges of criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity between different groups, unlawful activities, membership of a terrorist organisation and illegal possession of arms. Twelve of them — arrested in Bengaluru, between August 29 and September 1, 2012 — were also accused of conspiring to target leaders of Hindutva groups and a journalist backing such groups in Bengaluru.
The NIA filed a chargesheet against them on November 25, 2012 under IPC Sections 120B read with Section 153 A and Section 399. They were also charged under Section 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 read with Sections 10, 13, 17, and 38, as well as under the Arms Act 1959 (Section 3 read with Section 25).
The 13 who have pleaded guilty are: Shoaib Ahmed Mirza, 27, a computer applications degree holder, Abdul Hakeem Jamadar, 30, Riyaz Ahmed Byahatti, 32, Mohammad Akram, 27, Ubedullah Bahadur, 28, Waheed Hussain, 31, an MBA, Dr Zafar Iqbal Sholapur, 31, Mohammad Sadiq Lashkar, 33, Mehboob Bagalkote, 32, Obaid-ur-Rehman, 26, an undergraduate student, Dr Nayeem Siddique, 32, Dr Imran Ahmed, 30 and Syed Tanzeem Ahmed, 27.
One of them, Ubedullah Bahadur — accused under sections of the Official Secrets Act 1923, after “confidential information about deployment of military and armed forces’’ and space, atomic energy, and defence agencies was reportedly found on his laptop — has also pleaded guilty to the additional charge of spying.
Three others — a journalist, a junior scientist at DRDO, and a daily wage earner — were discharged from the case. Eight other accused persons are absconding, including the alleged main perpetrators of the plot. Most of them are suspected to be in Pakistan, while one, Dr Sabeel Ahmed, 33, is awaiting deportation from Saudi Arabia.
One accused, Asadullah Khan, 52, was deported from Saudi Arabia in December 2015 and his trial is yet to commence.
Dr Sabeel Ahmed, Mohammed Shaheed Faisal alias Ustad, 32, and a veteran LeT man Farhatullah Ghori, 51 — all absconding — were also named in a recruitment plot of the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent by the Delhi Special Cell in May 2016.
According to the NIA chargesheet, a number of Indian youths were enticed to join the terror outfit in 2010-11 by a group of LeT-linked operatives based in Saudi Arabia.
According to the chargesheet, two of them, Abdul Hakeem Jamadar and Dr Zafar Iqbal Sholapur, also travelled to Pakistan via Iran, between December and January 2011, with the intention “of going to Afghanistan to join the Taliban to fight against American and NATO forces’’. But Farhathullah Ghori, based in Karachi and wanted in the Akshardham attack case, convinced them to focus on India. In Karachi, the duo “met some senior ISI officials’’ and LeT operatives, according to the chargesheet.
“These ISI officials motivated them to collect intelligence and carry out espionage activities for them in India,’’ said the NIA.