Mumbai, Feb 10: The Bombay High Court today upheld the death sentence awarded to three members of Pakistan-based LeT, including a couple, in the 2003 twin Mumbai blasts that left 52 dead and quashed discharge of two other accused who will now have to stand trial.
A division bench of Justices A M Khanvilkar and P D Kode confirmed the death penalty of Ashrat Ansari (32), Hanif Sayed Anees (46) and his wife Fehmida Sayed (43), two and a half years after they were handed down the punishment by a special POTA court.
“The appeals filed by the accused (against their sentence) are dismissed... Their death sentence is upheld as it is,” the court said.
The court upheld death sentence awarded to them on all three counts of perpetrating terror, criminal conspiracy and murder.
It, however, stayed the order for eight weeks to enable them to appeal against the judgement in the Supreme Court following a prayer by the counsel of one of the convicts, Sudeep Pasbola.
Mohammed Ansari Ladoowala and Mohammed Hasan Batterywala, who had been discharged from the case on the basis of a report of the POTA review committee, will now have to face trial, but only under relatively less harsh IPC instead of the tough provisions of the repealed anti-terror law.
The court directed them to appear before the trial court in four weeks for proceedings to be initiated.
“As far as the discharge of two other accused Mohammed Ansari Ladoowala and Mohammed Hasan Batterywala is concerned, we are partly quashing the order passed by the POTA review committee,” the judges said, adding, “They will be tried under IPC. They are directed to appear before the trial court within four weeks.”
All three convicts attended the proceedings via video link from jail. While Fehmida, clad in a traditional veil appeared on the TV screen from women's prison at Byculla, Ashrat and Hanif witnessed the proceedings from Arthur Road Jail.
The two men were seen chatting for a while before the proceedings got underway, but were whisked away by the guards soon after the order was passed.
The court had on November 12, 2011 reserved its judgement on confirmation of death sentence to the three after agruments concluded at a special hearing.
Indian law requires death sentence awarded by a trial court to be confirmed by the High Court.
The three had been found guilty by a POTA court of planting powerful bombs in two taxis which exploded at Mumbai's landmark Gateway of India and the bustling Zaveri Bazaar on August 25, 2003, and awarded death sentence on August 6, 2009.
The blasts, according to the police, was plotted by Hanif, Ashrat, Nasir, a Hyderabad resident, who was later killed in a police encounter, and some Pakistani nationals owing allegiance to LeT, in Dubai to avenge the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat in which over 1000 people, mostly Muslims, had been slaughtered.
The LeT's role in the twin blasts was revealed by an accused-turned-approver who was pardoned by the court after public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam submitted a certificate saying he may be discharged.
It was for the first time that LeT had used a family to carry out bomb blasts to strike terror in the country. Along with Hanif and Fehmida, their 16-year-old daughter was also arrested for the offence, but later discharged as she was a minor.
Two other accused, Mohammed Ansari Ladoowala and Mohammed Hasan Batterywala, were also let off by the trial court on the basis of a report of the POTA review panel that said a case could not be made against the duo.
On the fateful day, Hanif, Fehmida and their daughter had boarded a taxi from Andheri to Gateway of India and left their bomb-laden bag in the vehicle telling the taxi driver that they would return after taking lunch. Luckily for the driver, the bomb exploded after he had alighted from his vehicle. The driver later identified the family in the court.
Ansari had boarded another taxi to Zaveri bazaar where again he left a bag packed with explosives in a taxi and the vehicle exploded shortly afterwards.
The three were convicted under various sections of IPC, POTA, Explosive Substances Act and Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.