Six years after two blasts at the iconic Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar in Mumbai left 52 persons dead,three Lashkar-e-Taiba members,including a couple,were sentenced to death by a POTA court for carrying out the explosions.
Handing down the noose to the trio — Mohammed Hanif Sayeed (46),his wife Fahmida (43) and Ashrat Ansari (32),the judge P R Puranik observed that it had been proved beyond reasonable doubt they had committed heinous acts resulting in numerous deaths.
The court agreed with special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam that this was a rarest of the rare case where capital punishment was justified.
This is for the first time that a couple has been convicted by a POTA court for carrying out blasts. The trio was held guilty of planting two bombs in taxis that exploded at the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar on August 25,2003,claiming 52 lives and injuring 244.
They had also planted a bomb on July 28,2003 in a municipal bus in suburban Ghatkopar which killed two persons. Soon after the verdict was pronounced,police whisked away Sayed,Fahimda and Ansari to different jails. Fahmida broke down outside the court while her husband did not react and stood calm by her side. Ashrat said “Is andhe kanoon se kya insaaf milega (what justice can you get when the law is blind).
Commenting on the verdict,Nikam said,”We are happy that justice has been delivered. This would send a strong message to terrorists that they would get such punishment if they indulged in barbarous acts”.
The three were given death penalty under section 3(2) of POTA,and IPC sections 302 (murder),307 (attempt to murder) and 120(b) (conspiracy).
They were sentenced to varying prison terms under the provisions of Explosives Substances Act,Explosives Act and Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.
“Initially they had planted a bomb in a bus but since few people were killed,they decided to use powerful bombs on the instructions of Laskhar-e-Taiba,” Nikam said.
Nikam said Fahmida had played a major role in these bomb blasts. She not only planted a bomb in a bus on July 28,2003,along with her husband’s friend Ashrat but also on August 25,2003,she and her husband Hanif planted bombs in taxis at the Gateway of India.
“Fahmida had actively participated in the process of selection and approval of location of targets. Though Fahmida was a woman she was equally cruel as other accused in the execution of conspiracy,” Nikam said.
The prosecutor said Hanif was an autorickshaw driver in Mumbai and had gone to Dubai to attend a meeting during which a conspiracy was hatched by LeT to carry out the blasts.
Ashrat had planted bomb in another taxi which exploded in Zaveri Bazaar.
Families of blasts victims waited outside the court to felicitate Nikam and his team of prosecutors. Among them was Ashok Patel who said,”We are happy that justice has been done at last.”
Zaveri Bazaar in South Mumbai was selected as blast site since the trio wanted to target the famous Mumbadevi temple. Gateway of India was chosen since LeT wanted to target the nearby Hotel Taj where many foreign tourists stay,Nikam said.
Along with Hanif and Fahimda,their 16-year-old daughter had been arrested for her alleged involvement in the blasts. However,she was discharged since the prosecution chose not to investigate the charges against her as she was a minor.
Two other accused,Mohammed Ansari Ladoowala and Mohammed Hasan Batterywala,were also discharged from the case by the POTA court after the Supreme Court upheld a POTA review committee report that had said there was no case against the duo.
An accused-turned-approver had told the court that the meeting to hatch the conspiracy was held in Dubai. LeT activists had come from Pakistan to attend the meeting,the approver,whose name has been kept a secret,had said.
The motive behind the blasts was to seek vengeance for the atrocities meted against the minority community during the Godhra carnage in Gujarat in 2002,he had told investigators.