Ahmedabad, July 1: Almost four years after Lashkar militants stormed Akshardham, killing 33 people, the POTA court on Saturday delivered the judgment in Gujarat’s first terror case. Six people were convicted, and three of them sentenced to death.
The trial took place in-camera at the high-security Sabarmati Jail where designated POTA court judge Sonia Gokani delivered the verdict. The three accused, Adam Suleman Ajmeri, Muftisahab Mohammed Mansuri, Shanmiyan alias Chandkhan Sajjadkhan, who had provided logistical support to the terrorists, were awarded death penalty while Mohammed Salim Mohammed Hanif Sheikh was sentenced to a life term.
Two others — Abdul Yasin Kadri and Altaf Husain Malek — were awarded 10 years and 5 years of rigorous imprisonment respectively. Incidentally, five of the six accused are locals, one belongs to Bareilly.
The order was passed taking into consideration confessional statements made by five accused under section 32 of POTA, which were admitted as evidence.
Said to be a ‘‘retaliatory’’ move following the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat, the conspiracy for the attack was reportedly hatched in Riyadh. The militants were Pakistanis and the arms and ammunition used in the attack were brought from J-K.
Gokani, while pronouncing the judgement, held all three persons sentenced to death directly responsible for the killing of people in the temple. The court ordered the death sentence under Section 120 (B) to be read with 302 of IPC.
On September 24, 2002, Akshardham temple, run by Akshar Purshottam Swaminarayan Sansthan, was stormed by two Pakistan-based terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). They lobbed grenades and opened indiscriminate fire on devotees in the temple premises.
Twenty-nine visitors, two National Security Guard (NSG) commandoes and two state commandoes were killed and 81 people were injured in the attack.
NSG commandoes, after a night-long gun battle, killed the militants identified as Murtuza Hafiz Yasin (code name Doctor 2) and Ashrafali Mohammed Farooq (Doctor 3). The militants were connected to Tehreeq-e-Qasas, a wing of the LeT.
There were 34 accused (including the two militants who were killed) in the case, of whom the police arrested only six. Main accused Abu Hamza and 25 others are still absconding. The police had submitted to the court that some of the accused had fled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and that they (the police) did not have passport details or photographs so as to take further action.
In the chargesheet, the 34 were accused under various sections of POTA, IPC, Arms Act and Explosive Substance Act for hatching criminal conspiracy and waging war against the nation.
Sudhir Brahmbhatt, Special Public Prosecutor, said, ‘‘We produced overwhelming evidence in the court to prove our case, including their confessional statments. We are satisfied with the order.’’ According to the prosecution, the conspiracy was hatched in Riyadh. Umesh Trivedi, Public Prosecutor, said, ‘‘A meeting took place in Riyadh between Altaf Husain and Mohammed Salim Sheikh, brother of Adam Abdul Rashid, who is absconding. They collected funds by distributing CDs showing the state of Muslims affected in the Gujarat riots. Adam helped the terrorists to do a recce of Ahmedabad and select Akshardham as a target.’’
The prosecution said both terrorists belonged to Pakistan. Though there is no direct evidence to show how they reached Ahmedabad, they reached here two days before the attack and visited Hotel Gulshan. They were carrying AK-56 rifles, live cartridges and hand grenades and stayed at a community hall and Adam’s brother’s residence before storming the temple, the prosecution had said. The two letters found in the militants’ possession urged Muslims who had suffered post-Godhra to retaliate.
Brahmbhatt said the court in its order observed: ‘‘The terrorists calculatedly selected the place of attack, their intention was to challenge the integrity and the unity of the nation and to destabilise the State Government. Though none of them suffered any personal losses in the post-Godhra riots, they facilitated and actively participated in the terrorist attack. To show the deterrence in the society and combat terrorism, it is required to award the extreme penalty — death sentence.’’
After the sentence was pronounced, Muftisahab Mohammed Mansuri, who had been awarded death sentence, said: ‘‘Allah ne jo kiya accha kiya hai, aage bhi accha karega..’’
Defence lawyer H N Jhala said: ‘‘The accused want to move the High Court against the judgment.’’
Relatives of the accused who had lined up outside Sabarmati jail said the judgment was ‘‘political.’’ Irfan Mohammed Hanif Sheikh, brother of Mohammed Salim Mohammed Hanif Sheikh who was given life sentence, said, ‘‘They had come to take my brother for passport verification on August 1. He was to go to Riyadh on August 4. However, they kept him in custody without registering any complaint.’’
Assistant Commissioner of Police (Ahmedabad City Crime Branch) G L Singhal, who was investigating officer in the case, said, ‘‘We are quite satisfied, we were expecting such a judgment.’’
Mastermind still at large
The POTA court on Saturday may have convicted six accused, but mastermind Abu Hamza, a Lashkar member now based in Riyadh, is still absconding. So are 25 others. When asked about the absconders, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Ahmedabad City Crime Branch) G L Singhal, said: ‘‘Most of them are either from out of the state or from abroad. For those who are from within the country, we are co-ordinating with the agencies of different states. We are also contemplating issuing a red-corner notice against them.’’ Those still at large include Faruq Mohammed Sheikh, Abdul Rashid Kadri, Mohammed Owais Qadri, Jahid, Majid Patel, Iqbal Patel, Gulam Laheri, Mustaqim, Akhtar Husain, Maulvi Farhadullah Ghori, Shaukatullah Ghori, Abdul Rehman alias Abu Talah Khalid, Abu Huzefa, Abdullah Mazhar, Kari Manan Maulvi, Kari Abdul Aziz, Kari Sharif, Yasin, Mushtaq, Sartan, Kamil and Shakir and two others who are unknown.
UNMASKING the FACES
BEHIND THE ATTACK
Shan Miyan alias Chand Khan Sajjad Khan
A resident of Bareilly, operating from J-K
Brought the metallic blue (KMT 314) containing arms and ammunition for the terror attack. He was also accused of bringing the fidayeen to Ahmedabad. The car, with a cavity for hiding arms, was brought from J-K to Bareilly, and he was fully conscious about the contents. He handed the arms to the terrorists who brought them to Gujarat via train. His proximity to the terrorists and his subversive activities priror to the attack led to the death penalty.
Adam Suleman Ajmeri
A resident of Danapith, Ahmedabad AJMERI was the main local link who facilitated the attack. Despite being aware and fully concious about the conspiracy for the terror attack, he received money from Riyadh to make arrangements for the fidayeen, including their stay and a recce of areas to zero in on a target. He dropped the fidayeen at Akshardham on September 24, 2002.
Abdul Kayyum alias Muftisahab Mohd Ansari
A resident of Dariapur, Ahmedabad
THIS Muslim cleric, who used to preach Islam to students, was accused of writing letters found in the pocket of the fidayeen. Tests by handwriting experts at FSL proved that the letters — in Urdu — were written by him. He was the one before whom the terrorists offered namaz ahead of the attack. Ansari was accused of guiding the conspirators.
Mohd Salim Mohd Hanif Sheikh
A resident of Dariapur, Ahmedabad
HE was accused of arranging meetings and collecting funds to abet the terror attack. He also distributed CDs of the Gujarat riots in order to collect funds and was in touch with local terror contacts. The reason he was not given death sentence was that he did not know the terror target. He also did not know that the fidayeen were carrying arms.
Abdulmiyan Yasinmiyan Kadri
A resident of Dariapur, Ahmedabad
KADRI was found abetting Ajmeri, the main local link, in arranging funds, but was not aware of how the money would be utilised.
TEN YEARS’ RI
Altaf Husain Akbar Husain Malek
A resident of Shahpur, Ahmedabad
MALEK also helped Ajmeri in collection of funds, but like Kadri was not aware of the intention behind it. He has already served three years of the term.
FIVE YEARS’ RI
HOW DID IT HAPPEN
Six months after the Sabarmati Express went up in flames came the terror attack on Akshardham.
Said to be a ‘‘retaliatory’’ move following the post-Godhra violence, the conspiracy was hatched in Riyadh. The militants were from Pakistan and arms used were brought from J-K.
Two unidentified men arrive at Gandhinagar’s Akshardham Temple in a white Ambassador car at around 4.45 pm.
The terrorists try to enter the complex through main Gate 3, but are stopped for a security check. They jump the fence with their sleeping bags and jackets full of automatic weapons and grenades. Armed with AK-56, they move towards the main walkway, lob grenades and open fire on tourists and pilgrims at a nearby book stall.
Both terrorists move towards the main monument, throwing hand grenades. Fail to enter the building as alert volunteers had locked it from inside.
The duo dashes towards the exhibition halls. Doors to the multimedia theatre were closed, but they enter an exhibition hall and fire at random.
They use the exit door and climb up to the roof top. By then, police and commando units arrive at the premises.
At around 11.30 pm, Black Cat commandoes are flown in.
The shootout continues through the night. At around 6.45 am, the Black Cats end the 14-hour gunbattle by shooting dead the two militants.
The commandoes recover letters, which show that the militants belong to a group called Tehrik-e-Kisas (Movement for Revenge), two AK-56s, a dozen magazines of which three were loaded, two packets of dry fruits, a packet of dates, a broken pair of glasses, chocolates and four live grenades. They were later identified as residents of Pakistan but their bodies were never claimed.
The militants were identified as Hafiz Yassir from Attock and Mohammad Amjad from Lahore. However, during the course of investigation it was learnt that Mohammad Amjad was actually Mohammad Faroukh of Rawalpindi.
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