Six years after twin blasts rocked the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar in 2003 killing 52 people, three persons, including a woman, were on Monday convicted by a special court for the crime. Special Prevention of Terrorism Act Judge M R Puranik convicted Ashrat Ansari, 32, Hanif Sayed Anees, 46, and his wife Fehmida Sayed, 43, who face a maximum sentence of death penalty for their role in carrying out the blasts.
The court said it will hear on August 4 the arguments of the defence and the prosecution regarding the quantum of sentence to be awarded to the convicted persons. The trio has been convicted under various sections of the Indian Penal Code for conspiracy, murder and attempt to murder, sections of POTA, Explosive Substances Act and Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.
The convicts listened carefully to the judge while the verdict was being pronounced and remained silent.
In a novel modus operandi, the LeT had used a family for the first time to carry out the blasts. Along with the couple, Hanif and Fehmida, their 16-year-old daughter was also arrested for the offence but was later discharged as she was a minor.
Two other accused, Mohammed Ansari Ladoowala and Mohammed Hasan Batterywala, were also discharged from the case by the POTA court after the Supreme Court upheld a POTA review committee report that said there was no case against the duo.
The LeT's role in the twin blasts was, however, revealed by an accused-turned-approver, who told the court that a conspiracy meeting, which was attended by the outfit's activists from Pakistan, was held in Dubai. The motive behind the blasts was to seek vengeance for the atrocities meted against the minority community during the Godhra carnage in Gujarat in 2002 and to create terror in Mumbai, said the approver, whose name has not been disclosed.
The approver was given a pardon by the court after Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam submitted a certificate saying the accused may be discharged. Hanif, Nasir and Ansari had made the bombs -- which exploded at the iconic Gateway of India and in the busy Zaveri Bazaar in South Mumbai on August 25, 2003 -- at the former's Andheri residence. Nasir, a resident of Hyderabad, was killed in an encounter with the Mumbai police after the blasts.
The three accused were found guilty under Indian Penal Code sections 120-b (conspiracy), 302 (Murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 427 (mischief causing damage). The trio were also convicted under POTA Sections 3 (terrorist acts), 3(3) Conspiracy, 3(4) (voluntary harbouring a terrorist), 4 (possession of arms) and 4(b) possession of explosives. Besides, they were held guilty under section 3 of Explosives Substances Act and 9(B) of Explosives Act (for possessing explosives).
They were also convicted under sections 3 and 4 of Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act. However, the trio was acquitted under Section 5 (making explosives under suspicious circumstances and Section 6 (abetment of offence) of Explosives Substances Act.
On the fateful day, Hanif, Fehmida and their daughter had boarded a taxi from Andheri to Gateway of India and left their bag in the vehicle, telling the taxi driver that they would return after taking lunch.
The bomb had exploded in the taxi after the driver, who identified the family in the court, left the taxi to have his food. Ansari had boarded another taxi to Zaveri bazaar and he too left his bag in the taxi, saying he would return, but the vehicle exploded shortly thereafter.
Public Prosecutor Nikam had said that the accused were also allegedly involved in carrying out an explosion in a bus at Ghatkopar on July 28, 2003, in which two persons were killed. Nikam also accused them of placing a bomb, which did not explode, in a public bus at suburban SEEPZ in December 2, 2002.
"After the July 2003 blast, the LeT, however, decided to conduct high intensity explosions and the two powerful bombs were planted in two taxis in Zaveri Bazaar and Gateway of India on August 25, 2003," Nikam said.
During the course of the trial, the prosecution examined 103 witnesses and the defence examined four.
Image: Hanif Sayed Anees outside the POTA Court | Photograph: Sahil Salvi