Pune, Apr 18: Indian Mujahideen operative Himayat Baig was awarded the death sentence by a Pune court Thursday for murder, criminal conspiracy and other serious charges in the 2010 German Bakery terror attack.
Baig was the only accused arrested for his role in the terror blast which killed 17, including five foreigners, in what was the worst extremist strike after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
The verdict draws the curtains on the Valentine's Day-eve tragedy of Feb 13, 2010 which shook the state's academic and cultural capital.
Pune Sessions Court Special Judge N.P. Dhote delivered the verdict in a packed courtroom.
During the arguments on the quantum of sentence in the afternoon, Baig broke down claiming innocence and pleaded for mercy. He was held guilty by the court April 15.
According to the prosecution, Baig planted the bomb under one of the tables in the German Bakery.
His lawyer A. Rahman opposed the prosecution's claim that there was a link between the Indian Mujahideen, banned since 2004, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror group and that the two terror groups jointly carried out the blast.
He further contended that Baig was framed by the investigators and they had neither arrested nor presented the six other accused in the case.
"Vodafone provided evidence based on phone records that at the time of the blast, Baig was in Aurangabad. The accused had never been to Pune before the blast and six witnesses also gave evidence to this effect. The prosecution could not prove the conspiracy theory nor did it produce the other accused before the court," Rahman said soon after the verdict.
The prosecution had named Baig and six other accused in the chargesheet, including absconders Yasin Bhatkal, Riyaz Bhatkal, Iqbal Bhatkal, Mohsin Choudhary and Fazzay Kagti.
Another accused, Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, is currently undergoing trial in other terror cases in the country.
Rahman said though he respected the court verdict Thursday, he would appeal against it in the Bombay High Court.
A resident of Beed district, Baig was nabbed from Udgir town in neighbouring Latur district by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad in September 2010, nearly seven months after the terror attack.
Among other offence, Baig has been convicted under Indian Penal Code Sections 302, 307 (murder and attempt to murder), 435, 474 (mischief by fire and explosive and forgery) and 120(b) (criminal conspiracy), besides other charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Explosives Act.
The court upheld the prosecution contention that the blast was "a carefully planned and executed attack" calculated to terrorise the general public, causing extensive damage to life and property.
The prosecution said the primary objective of the terror attack was to undermine and reduce faith of the common people in the elected government and destabilise the system of law.
The special judge upheld the prosecution argument that the terror attack caused deaths of foreign nationals, earning the country a bad name. Five foreigners were among the 17 victims of the Feb 13, 2010 blast.
After his arrest, the ATS charged Baig with hatching a conspiracy along with his six associates for the terror blast at German Bakery, situated in the up-market Koregaon Park area of Pune.
The investigators said the conspiracy for the terror blast was hatched in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in March 2008 in the presence of Baig, Jundal and Kagti. Baig's lawyer Rahman denied this charge.
After Baig returned from Colombo, he settled in Udgir where he operated a cyber cafe and remained in touch with the other accused using 25 different email identities, the prosecution said.
Baig surveyed the area near the German Bakery Jan 31, 2010 and under the orders of Yasin Bhatkal planted the bomb, the prosecutions said.
During the three-and-half-year-long trial, the prosecution examined 103 witnesses even as Baig rejected the charges claiming he was in Aurangabad on the day of the terror blast and was framed in the case.