Nine get life sentence for killing Haren Pandya


Ahmedabad : An anti-terror court here Monday sentenced nine people to life imprisonment and awarded varying jail terms to three others for killing former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya in March 2003.

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Special Judge Sonia Gokani of the anti-terror court, set up under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, while awarding life terms to nine convicts, held that Ashgar Ali, "who pulled the trigger", will have to remain in jail till death.

Delivering her verdict inside the Sabarmati Jail, Judge Gokani held a total of 12 people guilty for the Bharatiya Janata Party leader's murder. She awarded seven-year jail terms to two convicts and five years to the remaining one.

The others convicted for Pandya's assassination included Mohammed Abdul Rauf, Mohammed Abdul Bari, Iftikar alias Hassan Hazimi, Mohammed Shaiffudin, Zuber Shariff Muslim, Mohammed Imtiaz Muslim, Noor-Ur-Rehman and Syed Muvasir Hussain.

Pandya was assassinated in broad daylight March 26, 2003 at Law Garden near his residence during a morning walk.

The probe into the case was first conducted by the city crime branch, but was later transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The CBI had arrested Ali along with Mohammad Abdul Bari, Abdul Rauf and Mohammad Iftekar from Hyderabad April 17, 2003, nearly a fortnight after the murder and days before they were planning to escape to Pakistan. The others were arrested later.

Later the CBI in its chargesheet to the court had said that Ali had incited Muslim youths after the post-Godhra communal riots of 2002 in Gujarat allegedly asking them to take revenge on the Hindu community by targeting political leaders.

He had also selected youths from Ahmedabad and Hyderabad and had sent them to Pakistan for terrorist training in camps runs by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashker-e-Taiba (LeT), the CBI told the court in its chargesheet.

During the probe, the CBI had also recovered the murder weapon and the clothes worn by Ali. He had also been identified by an eyewitness as the person who pulled the trigger on Pandya on the fateful morning.

A total of 19 people were named as accused in the case, of which 15 were arrested. Four are absconding.

Pandya had risen to the post of state home minister during the rule of Keshubhai Patel, who made way for present Chief Minister Narendra Modi, before the 2002 assembly elections.

After the statewide communal carnage in the wake of the Godhra train massacre in February 2002, Pandya had fallen out with Modi and he was not given a ministerial birth in the cabinet after the assembly elections in September-October 2002.

Pandya's assassination had triggered a major political storm in the state with his supporters and later his father, Vitthal Bhai Pandya, alleging that Modi was behind the killing.