Bombay High Court defers judgement on death sentence in 2003 blasts case

Bombay High Court defers judgement on death sentence in 2003 blasts case
Mumbai:  The Bombay High Court has deferred its judgement on the death sentence awarded by a trial court to three accused in the twin blasts at Mumbai's Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar in 2003. The blasts, which took place within minutes of each other during the lunch hour, killed 52 people and injured 184.

The trial court had found the three, Ashrat Ansari (32), his aide Hanif Sayed Anees (46) and Hanif's wife Fehmida Sayed (43), guilty of planting powerful bombs in two taxis which exploded on August 25, 2003 at the two busy spots in the metropolis. They were convicted by the trial court in August 2009 under provisions of the Indian Penal Code, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the Explosives Substances Act and Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, and were sentenced to death.

The accused had then appealed against their conviction and sentence in the High Court. Today's High Court order came from a Division Bench of Justice A M Khanwilkar and Justice P D Kode, which also heard the prosecution's arguments seeking confirmation of the death penalty.

The police had said that some Pakistani nationals owing allegiance to the terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) were behind the attack. The prosecution contended that the conspiracy was hatched in Dubai by Hanif and Ashrat along with another accused, Nasir, who was killed in a police encounter. Police said it was a unique instance of the LeT using members of a family to carry out a terror strike.

According to the prosecution, on the day of the blasts, Hanif Sayed Anees - a former Mumbai auto-rickshaw driver who had gone to Dubai and returned only that year - and his wife Fehmida, arrived at the Gateway of India in a taxi that they had hired from Andheri station. There they allegedly left a bag filled with explosives in the cab and requested the driver to wait till they returned after having lunch. The taxi driver left the vehicle briefly, when the explosion occurred, the police said.

The police had also arrested the 16-year-old daughter of Hanif and Fehmida, who was present in the taxi, for allegedly aiding her parents. But she was later discharged from the case since she was a minor.

The driver of the taxi, Shivnarayan Vasudev Pandey, became a key witness in the case and identified the accused during the trial.

Ashrat Ansari was charged with planting the bomb which exploded in a taxi parked in Zaveri Bazar, the busy jewellery market. His modus operandi, the police said, was much the same. They said Ansari too left a bag containing explosives in the taxi and had asked the driver to wait.

The three were the first to be arrested in the case, less than a week after the twin blasts. Two more accused, Mohammed Ansari Ladoowala and Mohammed Hasan Batterywala, were arrested later and charged under POTA. Both were, however, discharged from the case in 2008 after the Supreme Court upheld a POTA review committee report that said that there was no case against them.

Another accused turned approver during the course of the trial and revealed the role that the LeT allegedly played in planning and executing the blasts. This accused was pardoned by the trial court after the prosecution requested that he be discharged from the case.

This was one of the few blasts cases in which the police managed to secure a conviction, the others being the 26/11 attack and the 1993 blasts. The motive, the police claimed, was to avenge attacks on Muslims during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002.

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