Chennai: Fifty eight killed, over 250 injured: Coimbatore's day of unimaginable terror in 1998, when 13 blasts ripped through the city. The target was LK Advani. One of the bombs that exploded was near a venue where the BJP leader was scheduled to hold a rally.
Eleven years later, on Tuesday, 9 members of the banned Al-Umma, convicted of planting bombs across the city, walked free. Sixteen months of their sentence have been forgiven.
The Tamil Nadu government says this is part of their efforts to commemorate the 100-year birth anniversary of DMK founder, Annadurai.
A petition seeking enhancement of their sentences is still pending in court, but the DMK says their good behavior means they've earned their reprieve. A gesture that has caused local outrage.
"It's a guarantee to all fundamental and terror groups that the state government would protect them and be their patron," seethes Cho Ramaswamy, Political Commentator.
The families of victims and witnesses who testified against these men are angry and scared. They point out that when the man who supposedly masterminded the blasts, People's Democratic Party President, Abdul Nasser Madani, was acquitted, the state preferred to not appeal. While his trial was on, the government had provided him an ayurvedic spa in jail.