MUMBAI - A special court here Tuesday reserved till Thursday the sentencing of the husband-wife team and their aide convicted for the August 2003 twin bombings in Mumbai, in which 54 people were killed.
Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) Special Judge M.R. Puranik’s ruling came at the end of nearly four hours of arguments between special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam and the defence lawyers representing the guilty trio — Mohammed Hanif Sayed, his wife Fahimida M.H. Sayed and their associate Ashrat Shafique Ansari.
Demanding death penalty for the accused, Nikam said that the trio acting at the behest of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LeT) terrorist group had committed the most heinous act without any remorse.
“Their intentions were to target the foreign tourists who throng the Gateway of India and the famous Mahalaxmi Temple but since their vehicle developed a snag, the second blast took place in Zaveri Bazaar, the hub of jewellery trade in the city,” Nikam later told reporters.
Opposing the prosecution plea, defence lawyers Wahab Khan (for Hanif), Sudesh Pasgola (for Fahimida) and S. Kunjuraman (for Ashrat) claimed that their clients were innocent of the crimes for which they were held guilty by the special court July 27.
Khan and Kunjuraman have already announced their intentions to challenge the verdict before the Bombay High Court, irrespective of the sentence Thursday.
“This is a baseless and meaningless judgement. There is not an iota of evidence against my client (Ashrat) to hold him guilty. I shall move the Bombay High Court,” Kunjuraman told IANS here Monday.
Similarly, Khan had said that this is not the rarest of rare cases, so it does not warrant the death penalty.
“My client had no personal grudge against any of the (54) victims in the incidents, they were simply misguided and indoctrinated,” Khan told IANS.
According to the prosecution, the blast conspiracy was hatched in Dubai and carried out by Zahid Yusuf Patni, the chief of a LeT module in Mumbai named Gujarat Revenge Force. He later turned approver in the case.
The Aug 25, 2003 twin blasts — one at Gateway of India and another at Zaveri Bazar — killed 54 people and injured another 244.
The terror attacks were carried out ostensibly to “avenge” the death of Muslims killed during the 2002 Gujarat riots that broke out in the wake of the Godhra train burning on Feb 27 that year.
During the trial, two other accused — Rizwan Laddowala and A. Shaikh Batterywala — were acquitted by the Supreme Court for lack of evidence after a POTA review committee had recommended their discharge from the twin blasts case. The duo was accused of connecting the timer with the detonator and prepared the other electrical circuits used in the deadly bombs.
Another prime accused and the mastermind behind the blasts, Nazir, was shot dead by police in Matunga in central Mumbai in September 2003.
The Sayeds’ minor daughter Farheen, though involved in the operation, was not charged under POTA and was discharged from the case a few years ago, according to Kunjuraman.
A total of four cases were simultaneously filed against all the accused in which 101 witnesses were examined.
They are: the twin blasts at Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar which killed 54 and injured over 244; a blast outside Ghatkopar railway station July 28, 2003, which left 2 dead and 31 injured.
The fourth case pertained to planting a bomb in a bus Dec 2, 2003, at the Special Electronics Export Promotion Zone (SEEPZ), a major commercial hub in Andheri East, which failed to explode.
After the March 12, 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts case, Nikam successfully conducted the twin blasts case and is currently spearheading the prosecution case of the Nov 26-29, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.