Mumbai area residents expressed satisfaction Wednesday after a special court sentenced five men to death for their alleged roles in the July 2006 bombings of commuter trains in and around the city, which killed 189 people and injured more than 800.
“After nine years, justice has been finally delivered to the victims’ families today. We are feeling a huge respite,” Mohidin Ansari, a 42-year-old green grocer from Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai, told BenarNews by phone.
“My younger brother, Parvez Ansari, was killed in a blast near Matunga road on that fateful evening. Like all other victims, he was innocent and was working hard to become a competent civil engineer. The assailants, however, snatched his life and shattered his dreams,” he added, referring to one of seven bombings on July 11, 2006 that targeted commuter trains serving India’s financial capital.
Earlier on Wednesday, the special court of the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA) handed the death penalty to defendants Asif Khan, Kamal Ansari, EhteshamSiddiqui, Faisal Sheikh and Naveed Khan for planting the bombs on the trains, according to news reports.
Seven other defendants – Mohammed Sajid Ansari, Mohammed Ali, Dr Tanveer Ansari, Majid Shafi, Muzzammil Shaikh, Sohail Shaikh and Zamir Shaikh – were sentenced to life in prison on charges of conspiracy and providing material and logistic support in carrying out the attacks, news reports said.
“It is indeed a great verdict and hopefully it will serve as a deterrent to those who intend to kill innocent civilians for their petty interests,” Krishan Nath, a teacher from the Mumbai area, told BenarNews in a phone interview.
India’s second deadliest terrorist attack
The sentences came nearly three weeks after Justice Y.D. Shinde of the special court convicted the dozen defendants on Sept. 11 for their alleged parts in the carnage and mayhem that took place nine years ago as trainloads of commuters were heading home from their jobs in Mumbai. A 13th defendant, Abdul Wahid Din Mohammed Sheikh, was acquitted for lack of evidence.
On that fateful evening in July 2006, seven bombs tore through the first-class compartments of crowded trains within a span of 11 minutes. The death toll from the combined explosions represented the country’s second deadliest next to a series of bombings in Mumbai in March 1993 that killed 257 people and injured more than 700.
This past July 30, Yakub Memon, who had been convicted for those attacks 22 years ago, was put to death in Nagpur, Maharashtra state.
Altogether 13 suspects were arrested and prosecuted in the ‘06 bombings, but 17 others, including four Indians and 13 Pakistanis, are still on the run, according to Agence-France Presse.
Indian authorities have named Azeem Cheema, the alleged leader of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), as the mastermind of the 2006 bombings, Reuters reported. Disaffected members of India’s Muslim community – the country’s largest religious minority – carried out the plot at LeT’s behest, Reuters quoted police as saying.
Although prosecutors have pinned responsibility on LeT, a little-known militant group, Lashkar-e-Qahhar, claimed that it had bombed those trains, AFP reported.
‘Merchants of death’
The trial of the 13 suspects lasted eight years, during which more than 200 witnesses testified. But it took the judge longer than a year to hand down the verdicts, after the trial ended in August 2014.
The prosecution had sought the death sentence for eight of the convicts and life imprisonment for the remaining four.
"The convicts are the merchants of death and must be awarded the death sentence," Special Public Prosecutor Raja Thakare said during the court proceedings, The Times of India reported.
Taxpayers, he also argued, should not have to pay for housing the convicts in prison.
Defense lawyers said that all 12 convicts would appeal Wednesday’s sentences to the High Court.
“As far as the issue of conspiracy, material and logistic support is concerned, there are certain gray areas and hence a definite scope for appeal in the higher court,” Sushant KumarThakur, a Supreme Court lawyer, told BenarNews, referring to life sentences handed to seven of the 12 convicts.