Basha found guilty in Coimbatore blasts; Mahdhani acquitted


Coimbatore : A sessions court Wednesday held banned Al Umma founder S.A. Basha guilty of "conspiring and transporting bombs" in the 1998 bombings here in which 58 people were killed even as it acquitted key accused Abul Nasser Mahdhani, the chief of the Kerala-based People's Democratic Party, of all charges.

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Judge K. Uthirapathi convicted 13 others, including Al Umma general secretary Mohammed Ansari, guilty in the 19 bomb blasts that rocked the city Feb 14, 1998, during then deputy prime minister L.K. Advani's election tour here. The blasts also injured 250 people and caused loss of property worth Rs.140 million.

The sentences are expected to be pronounced from Monday onwards after hearing arguments by the defence.

Mahdhani, lodged in Coimbatore Jail for the past eight years, had sought bail from Madras High Court on health grounds and was given special facilities when the M. Karunanidhi government came to power in Tamil Nadu in May last year.

The Kerala assembly had passed a unanimous resolution seeking the release of Mahdhani on "humanitarian grounds" in March last year. He was arrested on April 8, 1998, and indicted under various sections of the Indian Penal Code – spreading communal hatred, criminal conspiracy, and sedition.

A Special Investigation Team, probing the blasts, said the terror attack was carried out under the name "Operation Alla Ho! Akbar" and was intended to kill Advani.

Police said the blasts were in retaliation for the killing of 17 Muslims in a riot and subsequent police firing after one policeman was killed in the southern Indian city on Nov 29, 1997.

The trial began in March 2002. The Coimbatore sessions court, headed by Uthirapathi, has heard the testimony of 1,300 witnesses and cross-examined them.