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India’s Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence in Deadliest Attack

Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt arrives on the green carpet for the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards in Colombo. (File 2010)
Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt arrives on the green carpet for the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards in Colombo. (File 2010)
India’s Supreme Court has upheld the sentence of a person who masterminded the country’s deadliest terror strike in Mumbai, 20 years ago, and ordered a popular Bollywood star back to jail, in connection with the attack. The court also criticized Pakistan for training and arming the terrorists who carried out the serial bomb blasts, which killed 257 people.

Calling him one of the architects of the blasts which devastated Mumbai in 1993, the Supreme Court confirmed Thursday the death sentence handed down to Yakub Memon by an anti-terror court in 2007.

The death sentences of 10 others were reduced to life imprisonment.

The blasts were carried out in retaliation for the razing of a mosque by Hindu fundamentalists in northern India in 1992.

Serial bomb blasts

They were the deadliest to hit Mumbai, a city that has been wracked with terror several times. The terrorists used vehicles packed with explosives to carry out a dozen coordinated blasts in the city at some of its busiest spots, such as the Stock Exchange, a cinema and two crowded markets. About 257 people died and more than 700 others were injured.

The Supreme Court says that Pakistan’s complicity in the attacks cannot be denied, and that the terrorists who carried out the blasts were armed and trained by India’s neighbor. It observed that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, was involved in the blasts.

Chief Public Prosecutor in Mumbai Ujjwal Nikam welcomed the verdict. “This decision would give strong message across the border and also to those such terrorists who are still hiding in Pakistan.”

Implicating Islamabad, ISI

In the past, Indian authorities have also blamed Islamabad for its role in the blasts and say one of the masterminds of the attack lives in Pakistan. However, Pakistan strongly denies Indian accusations of training and arming militants to carry out attacks in India.

Thursday’s court verdict also got much attention because it involved a popular Bollywood star. The court upheld the conviction of actor Sanjay Dutt for illegal possession of weapons, which he bought from the bombers. The actor said he bought them to defend his family during deadly sectarian rioting that convulsed the city before the blasts.

However, Dutt’s sentence was reduced from six years to five years.

Farhana Shah, one of his lawyers, said, "Those arms were not utilized for any such purpose or planting or carrying out terrorist activity, so they have considered those points and they have reduced the sentence.”

Dutt spotlighted

Dutt, who has been out on bail, has been ordered to return to jail within four weeks. His arrest, trial and conviction during the investigation into the blasts has failed to dim his screen appeal.

The court also slammed the Mumbai police, custom department officials and coast guards for failing to check the transportation of sophisticated weapons into India.

Poor vigilance along its long coastline has long been a cause of concern in the country. Authorities say the gunmen who carried out deadly terror attacks in 2008 in Mumbai also came into the city by sea. Since then, authorities have announced a host of measures to revamp coastal security.