Suspected Indian Mujahideen operative Afzal Usmani was convicted and sent to five years in prison Wednesday, two-and-a-half years after he ran away from the City Civil and Sessions Court, escaping a heavy police cordon. His nephew, who helped him run out of Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh, was handed out a three-year jail term.
Judge S L Bangar of the Mazgaon court awarded Usmani two years’ sentence for obstructing arrest, forgery, and using a forged document as genuine, three years’ term for cheating for impersonation, and cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property, and five years in jail for forgery for the purpose of cheating. In addition, the court slapped fines of Rs 31,000 on him.
Nephew Javed Khan was sentenced three years each for obstructing arrest and harbouring a criminal, apart from Rs 10,000 in fine. The prison terms will run concurrently.
Usmani, who was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) for his role in the 2008 serial bomb blasts in Ahmedabad, escaped from the high-security Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act Court on September 20, 2013, from a cordon of Navi Mumbai police officers.
According to the ATS, Usmani first fled to the home of his friend Akmal Khan in Sewri, took Rs 600 from him and proceeded to the home of his sister in Dharavi. Usmani met Khan there, told him about his escape and visited two barbers who trimmed his beard and shaved his head. The duo then travelled to Surat, and further to Uttar Pradesh. While on the run, Usmani also applied for a driver’s licence and passport under a false name. Khan was arrested in Mumbai on October 25, and the ATS caught Usmani at Rupaidiha railway station in Uttar Pradesh three days later as he tried to flee to Nepal.
The prosecution examined 12 witnesses, including the barber who shaved Usmani’s head.
“This was an investigation carried out over many states. The superintendent of the RTO where Usmani applied for the driver’s licence and the barber deposed nicely. The investigating team did a good job,” said special public prosecutor Vaibhav Bagade.
“We are pleased with the conviction,” said Niket Kaushik, Inspector-General of Police, ATS.
Advocate Jamaal Khan, who represented Usmani and Khan, however, said the ATS had not made an arrest panchanama and memo when they caught the former at Rupaidiha. “The ATS says the licence was issued on October 24, but Usmani’s application to RTO to issue a licence is dated October 26. How could the licence have been issued two days prior to the application?” he asked.
The defence examined three witnesses, all prisoners at Taloja jail, and advanced the theory that Usmani was kidnapped by the ATS.
He also said a handwriting expert who analysed Usmani’s forged documents told the court that the signatures did not match. “The ATS also did not conduct a test identification parade of the barber,” he said.