Death for Gateway bombers

Written by Political Bureau | Mumbai | Updated: Aug 8 2009, 03:37am hrs
A Special Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) court on Thursday sentenced three people, including a 43-year-old woman, to death for planting bombs at the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar in 2003 and in a bus in the Mumbai suburb of Ghatkopar a year earlier, killing 54 people in all and wounding more than 200.

The ruling meant Fehmida Sayyed became the first woman to be given capital punishment in a terror case in the city. The other two sentenced were her husband Sayyed Mohammed Hanif, 46, and Ashrat Ansari, 32, for hatching a criminal conspiracy in Dubai to cause explosions, and under various sections of Pota.

There were mixed reactions in court after the sentencing. Ansari congratulated the policemen who had investigated the case. Fehmida started crying while Hanif looked visibly shocked and remained silent. Soon after the conviction on July 27, Fehmida had sought leniency from the court on the grounds that she was a woman following the orders of her husband and thus had accompanied him (Hanif) in the taxi to Gateway of India in which a bomb exploded.

The court handed other sentences which will run consecutively. The three accused were also sentenced to 51 years of rigorous imprisonment, four life imprisonments, and three death sentences on different counts. In addition, the court imposed a fine of Rs 1.73 lakh on each.

Defence lawyers Sushan Kunjuraman and Wahab Khan said they would appeal against the judgment as they said there were serious loopholes in the evidence because of which the benefit of doubt should have been given to the accused.

Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said Its a victory for the prosecution and warning to terrorists that any such barbaric act in our country will be dealt with sternly.

The court, while convicting the accused, had accepted the confessional statements of the three accused, which were later retracted in court. It also accepted the statement of taxi driver Shiv Narayan Pandey and evidence of an accused turned approver. The driver survived due to sheer providence as he was not near the taxi when the bomb went off. He later led the police to the house of the accused in Andheri.

According to the confession given by Hanif and Ashrat, the blast was in retaliation to the Gujarat riots in 2002. They said they were totally blinded by their Pakistani friends who showed them CDs of atrocities meted out to Muslims in Gujarat, which had to be avenged.

The six-year-long trial saw three among the accused being discharged and another turning approver. Mohammed Ansari alias Usman Ladoowala and Mohammed Ansar Shaikh alias Hassan Batterywala, who had spent over five years in jail, were discharged by the Supreme Court in 2008 after the Pota Review Committee gave them a clean chit in 2005. Another accused, Nasir Ahmed, was shot dead in an encounter near Matunga a fortnight after the blasts.

The police had also arrested Hanif and Fehmidas daughter, who was 16 years old in 2003, accusing her of being a conspirator and a bomb planter as well. She was subsequently discharged. Defence lawyers maintain that the girls arrest was a pressure tactic to extract a confession from her parents.