India’s top court upheld the death sentence awarded to a man accused of carrying out serial bombings in Mumbai that killed 257 people two decades ago, the deadliest terrorist attack in the nation’s history.
After a trial and appeals that have lasted more than 17 years, a panel of Supreme Court judges reduced the punishment for 10 men to life imprisonment after a lower court gave them the death penalty. The court also rejected Bollywood film actor Sanjay Dutt’s appeal against a conviction for illegally possessing fire arms tied to the attack, and gave him a five-year prison term.
“We have no doubt on the guilt of the convicts” from “the meticulous examination of confessional statements and evidence produced by the prosecution,” said a two-judge panel of P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan.
More than 100 people are accused of planning, funding or planting the 13 bombs that ripped through India’s financial capital, including the Bombay Stock Exchange and Air India’s headquarters, in March 1993. The attack, called Black Friday by India’s media, left more than 700 injured.
The bombings were seen as a reaction to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque in the northern holy city of Ayodhya, by Hindu fundamentalists on Dec. 6, 1992, and subsequent riots that killed more than 1,500 people across the country. The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence awarded to Yakub Abdul Memon, who the judges said was the main conspirator and manager of the funds used to carry out the attack.
The probe into the blasts, which occurred two weeks after the bombing of New York’s World Trade Center in 1993, highlights the hurdles India faces in clearing its backlog of criminal cases. While the U.S. court delivered its first verdict 15 months after the February 1993 blast, this case is still dragging through India’s legal system.
The men can now seek a top court review of the case and appeal to President Pranab Mukherjee for clemency.
Three of the main accused are still at large. India’s Central Bureau of Investigation says Tiger Memon, Yakub’s brother, along with associate and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and Mohammad Dossa, conspired to plant the bombs. India has accused Pakistan of sheltering Ibrahim, a charge that the neighboring South Asian country has denied.
Dutt, the star of movies including Lage Raho Munnabhai, was found guilty in July 2007 of illegally possessing three AK-56 rifles, ammunition, magazines, a 9-mm pistol and cartridges during the 1993 Mumbai blasts case. After being sentenced to six years in jail, he was granted bail by the Supreme Court pending appeal.