Three convicts sentenced to death
Three persons, including a woman, were on Thursday sentenced to death by a special court for their involvement in the 2003 blasts at the iconic Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar in Mumbai, which claimed 54 lives and injured 244 others. Mohammed Hanif Sayed, his wife Fahmida and Ashrat Ansari were sentenced to death by a special Prevention of Terrorism Act Court.
This is the first time that a couple is being convicted by a POTA court for their involvement in carrying out bomb blasts. The trio was held guilty of planting two bombs that exploded at the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar on August 25, 2003. They had also planted a bomb on July 28, 2003 in a municipal bus in suburban Ghatkopar which killed two persons.
Hanif, who was present in court dressed in a white kurta pyjama, did not show any reaction when the verdict was delivered. His wife Fahmida remained silent at the time of the pronouncement of the judgment but broke down as she left the court premises.
Image: Mohammed Hanif Sayed outside the POTA Court
Photographs: Sahil Salvi
'It is a message to people who indulge in terrorism'
Speaking outside the court, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said the trio deserved the death penalty as the case fell in the rarest of the rare category.
"We are happy that all three got the death penalty. It is a message to people who indulge in terrorism that the law will not spare them if they commit such barbarous acts," Nikam said.
The trio was sentenced to death under section 3(2) of POTA, and sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 120 (b) (conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code, he said. 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 only a few people were killed, they decided to use powerful explosives on the instructions of the Laskhar-e-Tayiba," Nikam said.
Nikam said Zaveri Bazaar in south Mumbai was chosen since the trio wanted to target the famous Mumbadevi temple nearby. The historic Gateway of India was also chosen since they wanted to target the nearby Hotel Taj Mahal, where many foreign tourists stay.
Image: Fahmida outside the POTA Court
Photographs: Sahil Salvi
The LeT connection
"The aim of the LeT was to destabilise India with these blasts," the special public prosecutor said.
Along with the couple, Hanif and Fahimda, their 16-year-old daughter was also 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 said there was no case against the duo.
An accused-turned-approver had told the court that the meeting to hatch the conspiracy was organised in Dubai by the LeT.
LeT activists had come from Pakistan to attend the meeting, the approver, whose name has been kept a secret, said. The motive behind the blasts was to seek vengeance for the atrocities meted out against the minority community during the Godhra carnage in Gujarat in 2002, he had told investigators.
Image: A file photograph of Mohammed Hanif Sayed outside the POTA Court
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters