An Indian court sentenced an explosives expert with militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to life in prison on Tuesday for masterminding a terror attack in Haryana 21 years ago.
The twin bombings at a bus stop and a busy market in the northern state’s Sonepat town injured some 15 people on Dec. 28, 1996.
The court in Sonepat on Monday convicted Indian national Syed Abdul Karim (alias Tunda) of attempted murder, criminal conspiracy, and causing explosions to endanger life or property, his lawyer told reporters after Tuesday’s sentencing. The court also fined Karim, a native of Uttar Pradesh state who was arrested four years ago on the Indo-Nepal border, Rs. 100,000 (U.S. $1,534), defense attorney Ashish Vats said.
Karim is suspected of involvement in at least 40 terror attacks in the country, including the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai that killed about 260 people, a police official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity. Karim’s name was also on a list of most-wanted terrorists that India handed to Pakistan following the 2008 Mumbai attack that claimed 166 lives, the source said.
“[Karim] has been sent to a jail in Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh), where he will complete his life term. He was the only wanted person in connection with the Sonepat blasts,” Satender Kumar Gupta, Sonepat’s senior superintendent of police, told BenarNews. Efforts to contact Ghaziabad Jail authorities for comment failed.
India blames the Pakistan-based LeT for several attacks on its soil, including the 2001 assault on the Indian Parliament that claimed 14 lives and the 2008 Mumbai attack. The outfit, formed in 1987 with funding from al-Qaeda, claims to be primarily fighting to “liberate” Muslims living in Indian Kashmir, where its cadres routinely target security forces.
Forty-three witnesses testified during the trial, in which Karim maintained he was in Pakistan when the blasts occurred and that he was not responsible for them, Vats said. Karim will challenge the verdict in the High Court, the lawyer added.
Besides Karim, the police had also registered a case against two other suspects – Shakeel Ahmad and Mohammad Amir Khan – who were arrested in 1998 but let off by a court four years later for lack of evidence.
Senior criminal lawyer Neeraj Pandey welcomed Karim’s conviction and sentencing, but urged authorities to keep probing his connections.
“Conviction doesn’t mean the end of the investigation. All his connections, his sources of funding should be thoroughly investigated,” Pandey told BenarNews.