An Indian court Thursday found 12 men guilty of procuring weapons and explosives as part of a conspiracy to assassinate political leaders including India’s current prime minister who were accused of fanning the Gujarat communal riots in 2002.
Among those convicted in the case linked to a weapons haul in Maharashtra state 10 years ago is Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, alias Abu Jundal, who is accused of playing a key role in the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008.
“This was a conspiracy after the 2002 Gujarat riots to eliminate then Gujarat CM [Chief Minister] Narendra Modi and VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad] leader Pravin Togadia,” the Maharashta Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA) court said while delivering the verdict.
The week-long violence claimed the lives of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, according to official figures. The riots broke out after a train full of Hindu pilgrims was set ablaze, killing 58 people.
Modi, who was Gujarat’s chief minister at the time, and Togadia, leader of right-wing Hindu nationalist organization VHP, were accused of instigating Hindu mobs to attack Muslims, but those charges were never proven.
100 witnesses, 2,000 documents
On May 8, 2006, more than four years after the riots, a team from Maharashtra state’s Anti-Terrorism Squad chased two cars on the Chandwad-Mammad Highway, near Aurangabad, and arrested three suspects from one of the intercepted vehicles.
Jundal, 35, who was allegedly driving the second car, managed to elude police and drove to Malegaon, from where he escaped to Pakistan through Bangladesh and then to Saudi Arabia, the prosecution said.
Both vehicles were recovered by police who seized 30 kg (66 pounds) of RDX explosive material, 10 AK-47 assault rifles and 3,200 bullets from them.
Jundal, alleged to be one of the handlers of the 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) members who launched a series of coordinated terror strikes in Mumbai on Nov. 26, 2008, which killed 164 people, was arrested in 2012 after Saudi Arabia deported him to India.
Following Jundal’s arrest, the country’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) brought charges against 22 people for the 2006 weapons haul, under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Explosive Substances Act and the Arms Act.
While the court convicted 12 of them, eight were acquitted, one testified against the others and one has fled. Sentencings are expected early next week.
The trial, which concluded in March, saw prosecutors examine 100 witnesses and more than 2,000 documents. They claimed there was direct evidence to link the weapons to Pakistan.
Analysts closely following the case expressed surprise at the conviction of Jundal, known to be a soft-spoken electrician from Maharashtra’s Beed district.
“Although I believe that the judiciary is impartial, the draconian laws of India allow the evidence required to be of much lesser quality while giving security forces vast powers to cook up confessions,” Irfan Engineer, director of the Mumbai-based Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, told BenarNews. “Under such laws, even human rights bodies are unable to defend those on trial.”
“The Urdu press had frequently come out in Jundal’s defense based on interactions with his family and friends saying he was wrongly accused as there was no evidence to link him to the weapons haul,” Engineer added.
Senior criminal lawyer Amit Khemka also raised doubts, citing the delayed verdict.
“Jundal was deported in 2012. Why did it take four years to deliver a verdict in the case? The whole purpose of conviction is defeated in such cases,” he said.
“Such trials should be held on a day-to-day basis. The courts need to scrutinize the witnesses to be examined on the basis of their relevance so that the case can be dealt with in a timely fashion,” Khemka told BenarNews.