Sanjay sentence brings curtains down on 14-year terror trial


New Delhi : The sentencing of Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt to six years imprisonment in the 1993 Mumbai bombings Tuesday brings to an end one of the world's longest terror trials during which 12 people were sent to the gallows and 20 got life.

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It was 14 years and four months ago on March 12, 1993, when a string of powerful blasts killed 257 people in India's financial capital Mumbai and injured hundreds.

The special anti-terror TADA court found 100 people guilty. On Sep 12 last year it began delivering the verdict on what is one of the world's worst terror attacks — in which about 35 accused, including mob boss Dawood Ibrahim, his brother Anees and his close aides Tiger Memon and Mohammed Dossa are shown as absconding in the chargesheet.

Tiger Memon, suspected to be one of the brains behind the blasts, along with Dawood Ibrahim and Pakistani intelligence agencies coordinated the attacks in India's financial hub, according to investigators.

Five members of the Memon family, including Yakub Memon, were found guilty in the case.

Dutt was among the last four people awaiting sentencing of the 100 people convicted.

Judge Pramod Kode Tuesday also handed out a five-year sentence to Yusuf Nullwallah and a two-year prison term to Kersi Adajania who supplied Dutt with assault rifles and a pistol. Russi Mullah, however, was released under the Probation of Offenders Act.

More than 50 other people found guilty will serve between three and 14 years in jail.

It has been 10 months from verdict to sentencing with the judge reading it out serially, dividing the 123 accused in batches of eight. Kode, who has himself reportedly received threats during trial, started delivering his judgment in batches at the Arthur Road jail premises.

Prominent among the 12 sentenced to death are Shoiab Ghansar, who planted an RDX-laden scooter in Zaveri Bazaar that killed 17 people, Shahnawaz Qureshi, who planted bombs at Plaza Cinema, Parvez Shaikh, responsible for the Katha Bazaar bombings, and chartered accountant Yakub Memon, who was responsible for the logistical arrangements.

Among the 20 accused given life are Vijay Patil, a former police sub-inspector who took bribes to allow the passage of RDX from Raigad to Mumbai, and Moin Qureshi who filled up several of the vehicles with explosives.

Police constables Ashok Muleshwar, P.M. Mahadik, Ramesh Mali and S.Y. Palshikar were found guilty of allowing RDX to land in Mumbai and sentenced to six years' imprisonment and a fine of Rs.25,000 each.

The series of 13 devastating blasts, which targeted key places like the Mumbai Stock Exchange building and the Air India headquarters, were not only India's worst terror attack but also led to the country's longest criminal trial against terrorists – it began June 30, 1995 and ended Sep 19, 2003.

The trial, held in a court inside a prison complex for security reasons, began after the court examined 686 witnesses, two accused-turned-approvers and recorded evidence running into 14,000 pages.

Before the sentencing began, public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told IANS: "In this trial, we have to date examined nearly 700 witnesses, while 35,000 documents' worth of evidence have been recorded.

"According to the Indian judicial system, every point has to be proven by the prosecution including those that are often presumed in foreign countries.

"Every person or accused is supposed to be innocent until the prosecution proves the charge against him or her. That's why we face many difficulties when trying to establish serious charges against the accused."