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On death row

Print edition : Aug 10, 2007 T+T-

The death penalty has been awarded to 12 of the accused in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, but the key plotters are at large.

ANUPAMA KATAKAM in Mumbai

SITTING in the first row of the benches meant for convicts, Yakub Memon looked extremely composed for a man who faced the death penalty. It was judgment day on July 26 as all those who were convicted in the case relating to the 1993 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai had been handed their sentence by the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court. The Memon familys sentencing was the last on the list. Yakub wore a crisp white shirt and pale blue jeans. His expression, however, gave nothing away.

Perhaps the only indication of the toll the 14-year-old trial has taken on him is his shock of grey hair. He looks much older than his 45 years.

As the brother of Tiger Memon, the prime accused, Yakub was held guilty by the TADA court of being deeply involved in the conspiracy and of helping finance the operation.

[f]or this he will be given death, said Judge Pramod Kode, Special Judge of the TADA court. At this point, the seemingly calm Yakub leapt up and shouted: Oh my lord forgive this man for he knows not what he does. Let me out of this place. He rushed out of the courtroom not wanting to listen to the rest of his sentence. In cases of conspiracy, even if you do not commit the act you will be held liable for conspiracy if evidence proves you are involved in the planning, said the Judge before declaring the death sentence. Yakub Memon has consistently maintained that he returned from hiding because he was innocent.

Before the judgment on Yakub Memon, two of his brothers, Essa (33) and Yusuf (34), and sister-in-law Rubina (39), were sentenced to life imprisonment up to death by Kode. Essa and Yusuf were found guilty of allowing their flat and garage in the Al-Hussaini building in Mahim to be used for terrorist activities. Both brothers are sick and the Judge said he spared them the death penalty because of their health problems. Rubina was found guilty of allowing her Maruti van to be used for transporting the arms and ammunition used in the blasts. It was this van, which was found abandoned, that provided the first clue in the investigation. Defence lawyers in the courtroom thought that awarding life sentence to Rubina was unfair since she could do little about her car being used in the operation.

The sentencing of the Memon family brings the 14-year trial to its final stage. In the past fortnight, Kode sent 11 men to the gallows and 20 to life imprisonment for planting bombs and for being deeply involved in the conspiracy. Four people, including film actor Sanjay Dutt, remain to be sentenced.

Of the 100 convicted persons, 96 have been sentenced for their role in the March 12, 1993, bomb blasts that killed 257 people and injured close to 1,400. On that fateful day, 15 powerful bombs were placed at various nodal points in the city 12 exploded, bringing the city to its knees. The terror attack was the first of its kind in India and is believed to have been carried out in retaliation for the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots in Mumbai in January 1993. Muslim organisations from abroad, in coordination with the Indian underworld, had organised it.

Although the serial blasts case trial, the longest so far in the country, reached its end, the prime conspirators are still at large. Confessional statements from those arrested and other evidence have led to the conclusion that underworld dons Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon were responsible for carrying out the attack. It is believed that Dawood thought he was the only who could take revenge for his communitys suffering during the Mumbai riots. He chose Tiger, a smuggler based in Mumbai, to plan, train the participants and finally execute the blasts.

Both of them are currently housed abroad in safe havens to which the Indian government has little access. The men caught and sentenced were only their foot soldiers. Justice would not have run its complete course until Dawood and Tiger Memon are brought to book, and until then the case cannot be shut, says a former investigator of the case.

In spite of credible evidence available that Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon are in Pakistan, Indias efforts to get them extradited have yielded no result. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced after he took over that he intended to use the proposed joint intelligence mechanism that India and Pakistan had agreed to set up to push for the extradition of people like Dawood Ibrahim. Till date, there seems to be no development on this issue, and if past records are anything to go by, there may never be any positive outcome.

So in the end it was a sorry group of poor, uneducated and misled men who took the rap for Tiger Memon. Other than Yakub, the 11 others who received capital punishment are those who planted the bombs.

Abdul Gani Turk (50), Parvez Shaikh (39) and Mushtaq Tarani (33) were the first three to be given the death penalty, on July 18. Turk was held guilty of planting explosives at Century Bazaar in Central Mumbai, which killed 113 people the largest number killed at one spot. Shaikh planted the bomb at Katha Bazaar, which killed four people. He also left a suitcase bomb at Hotel Sea Rock in Bandra, but it failed to go off. Tarani planted two bombs one at Shaikh Memon Street and the other, a suitcase full of explosives, at Hotel Juhu Centaur. Neither exploded. But Judge Kode said there was ample evidence to prove that Tarani was a core member of Tiger Memons gang. He met Tiger Memon at the Taj Hotel in February 1993 in connection with the conspiracy and he also surveyed possible sites to be targeted.

Tigers accountant Asghar Mukadam (45), Shahnawaz Qureshi (49) and Shoaib Ghansar (43) were the next to be given the death sentence. Mukadam and Qureshi were held responsible for planting a bomb at Plaza cinema where 10 people were killed. Ghansar was responsible for the blast at Zaveri Bazaar, which killed 17 people and injured close to 60.

Mohammed Iqbal was handed the death penalty for planting explosives at Naigam and for accompanying another bomber who threw grenades in the Sahar airport. No one was killed but the airport suffered some damage. Firoze Amani Mallik (37), Zakir Hussain (37) and Abdul Akhtar Khan (44) received the death penalty for lobbing grenades that killed three at the Mahim fishermens colony. This area was targeted because several residents of the colony had allegedly attacked the Muslim community which lived in neighbouring Mahim, during the 1992-93 riots.

The fourth accused in the Mahim attack, Mohammed Moin Qureshi, who was 17 at the time of the blasts, was spared by the Judge on account of his immature age. He was given a life sentence.

Farooq Pawale was handed the death sentence for planting a car bomb in the Air-India building in South Mumbai, which killed 20 and injured close to 100. Pawale was also held guilty of a second car bomb blast, which killed four people near Lucky petrol station opposite the Shiv Sena Bhavan in Dadar.

Upon being awarded the death sentence, Zakir Hussain burst out in court that the judiciary was biased. If a Hindu does something, a commission is set up. But if a Muslim does something, he is hanged, he shouted.

Outside the courtroom, family members of the convicted echoed this sentiment. It was one-sided. What happened to the Srikrishna Commission report? Why was it not implemented? What happened to those who killed innocent Muslims during the riots? asked an inconsolable Ismailbi, Abdul Khans mother.

The turning of a blind eye towards the culprits of the riots has been a point of contention through this trial. While Judge Kode said on several occasions that no terror attack was justifiable, minority groups repeatedly stated that the 1992-93 riots and the bomb blasts had to been seen together.

I dont think its as simple as a tit-for-tat situation, says Rakesh Maria, currently Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) who was instrumental in cracking the case in 1993. Definitely there was a revenge factor after Babri Masjid. For instance, one bomber saw his house set on fire. Another witnessed his mother being burnt alive. Tiger himself suffered after his office was burnt by rioters. But some just did it for the money or out of loyalty to Tiger. They were so poor that Rs.10,000 seemed like a pot of gold. It did not seem as though they realised the enormity of what they were being made to do.

The tragic part is that Tiger Memon did not plan their escape. Although he did promise each of the bomb planters a better life in Dubai and Pakistan, in the end all he did was to give them some cash and ask them to leave Mumbai. Obviously, Rs.10,000 would not get a person very far. Many returned and were eventually captured.

The big fish are still out there. Until they are caught, this case is hardly over, says Maria.

A few bomb blast victims Frontline spoke to said the verdict did nothing for them. Fourteen years is too late, says Firoze Ramodiya, a victim of the Century Bazaar blast. Ramodiya lost two brothers in the explosion and also several lakhs worth of property as the fire that followed destroyed both his shop and residence. If they wanted to, it could have been achieved earlier. I dont feel any sense of justice after so many years.

A death sentence, however, could take a while to be executed. To begin with, the Supreme Court has to confirm the Special Courts decision. Even at this stage the convict has a chance to appeal against the confirmation in the apex court. If the apex court still does not reverse the judgment, the convict can seek clemency from the President of India. Apparently, several hundred clemency pleas are pending before the President some for over a decade.

Meanwhile, all those on death row will be taken to the Yerawada jail in Pune. As per the Maharashtra prison regulations, they will be put in individual cells in the phansi [hanging] yard.

They will not have human contact any more. Two meals, and reading and writing material will be allowed. Once a day, a guard will take them out for a walk. If the court permits, they will be allowed one visit in a month by a relative.