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|March 11, 1998||
The wheels of justice grind slowly in the blasts case
Five years have lapsed since bomb blasts in 13 strategic locations on a bloody Friday shook Bombay. In little more than two and a half hours, the blasts killed more than 350 people, and left behind an enormous trail of destruction. Today, five years after the most heinous instance of terrorist violence in India, the masterminds behind the mind-boggling crime are still at large.
The deadly explosives developed by ordnance factories abroad were landed at Shekhadi and Wangni Tower, both in the coastal district of Raigad in Maharashtra, through the involvement of the local smuggling network, and transported to Bombay. The explosives were assembled at Iqbal Memon's home in Mahim, north central Bombay, a stone's throw away from the local police station.
The serial blasts marked the arrival of urban terrorism in the economic hub of the country. Bombay bounced back from RDX-inflicted damage in inimical style the next day, but there are those who languish in jail, those who undergo medical treatment, and those who have been unsuccessful in picking up the threads of their life once again.
The draconian Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (prevention) Act act was used to book all conspirators in the case. The enormity of the crime can be seen from the huge number of accused in the case, 198, which includes Memon and Dawood Ibrahim. About 136 detenus are yet to be tried, 57 are in jail, 26 have been discharged and 74 have been granted bail, while 7,000 witnesses are yet to be questioned.
The trial has been the subject of much debate, especially since many of the accused are charged with minor offences and took no part in the actual conspiracy, but who nevertheless have completed terms equal to their sentence if they were to be found guilty.
In 1995, with the arrest of Yakub Memon near the Delhi railway station, hopes soared of a speedy turn to the trial but they were dashed with Memon pleading not guilty and refusing to divulge anything on the conspiracy.
Five years down the road, the conspiracy itself has not been fully unravelled or even established. But prosecutors feel that the information gathered during the interrogation of several accused, point to the involvement of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence and of the notorious fugitive gangster, Dawood Ibrahim.
Criminal lawyer Majeed Memon, however, believes it was the handiwork of disgruntled Muslims who were upset after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. "There are no international ramifications to the case," he says, adding that the case is quasi-social and quasi-political and should be treated in that light.
The first of the blasts went off at 1320 hours at the Bombay stock exchange, followed by 11 others in a span of over two hours. The various spots were chosen with the intent to generate maximum panic: Air-India building in Nariman Point, Zaveri Bazaar, Century Bazaar and near the regional passport office at Worli. Blasts also occurred at the Centaur Hotel at Santa Cruz, Masjid Bandar in Katha Bazar and near the Sena Bhavan and Plaza Theatre in Dadar. The last of the blasts went off at 1554 hours at Hotel Searock in Bandra. At Mahim, a scooter was found loaded with RDX which providentially did not explode.
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