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Indian Court Overturns Conviction of Two in 2001 Attack on Parliament - 2003-10-29


An Indian court has acquitted two of the four people found guilty of plotting an attack on the Indian parliament nearly two years ago - an incident that nearly brought India and Pakistan to war. The court upheld the death sentence awarded to the two others involved in the plot.

A two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court acquitted a university professor, Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, who had been sentenced to death for his alleged involvement in the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi.

Last year, a special anti-terrorism court had found Mr. Geelani and two other men guilty of conspiring with Pakistan-based Muslim militants for the deadly assault on parliament that killed 14 people, including the five gunmen who led the raid. India's top leadership was in the building when the attack took place.

The court said prosecutors did not present sufficient evidence linking Mr. Geelani to the attack.

The judges also reversed the five-year prison sentence awarded to Navjot Sandhu -- the wife of one of the two men whose conviction has been upheld. She had been charged with failing to alert police about plans for the assault. But the court upheld the death sentence awarded to two Kashmiri Muslims, Mohammed Afzal and Shaukat Hussain Guru, the husband of Navjot Sandhu. The two men had been found guilty of waging war against India.

Though they did not take part in the attack - they had been charged with helping to plan it. They were in arrested in Kashmir days after the attack. They were found guilty of harboring terrorists and hatching a criminal conspiracy.

Police say they were members of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group, which is battling New Delhi's rule in Indian Kashmir. The four accused had challenged the prosecution's use of transcripts of taped telephone conversations as evidence.

Public prosecutor Mukta Gupta says the police will consider appealing the acquittals of two persons to the Supreme Court after studying the judgment. "It's a 400-page judgment. The moment the judgment arrives the state will be able to take a decision in the matter, " she says.

India has long claimed that the attack on its parliament was planned by Pakistan's intelligence agency - a charge Islamabad strongly denies. Both countries mobilized hundreds of thousands of troops in the months following the attack and came close to a fourth war.

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