MUMBAI: 26/11 Mumbai attacks key plotter and Lashkar-e-Toiba operative Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal was among seven persons sentenced to life imprisonment today by a special MCOCA court in the 2006 Aurangabad arms haul case.
Besides Jundal, six other convicts–Mohammed Aamir Sheikh, Billal Ahmed, Sayed Akif, Afroz Khan, Mohammed Aslam Kashmiri and Faizal Ataur Rehman (who is on death row in the July 11, 2006 Mumbai train bombings case)– were handed out life by designated Judge Shrikant Anekar.
Prounoucing the sentence, the court said that all the seven convicts will serve imprisonment till their (natural) life.
Also, two other convicts–Mohammed Mujaffar Tanvir and Dr Mohammed Sharif– were handed out 14 years of imprisonment while three others–Mushtaq Ahmed, Javed Ahmed and Afzal Khan were awarded eight years imprisonment.
The court while sentencing all the 12 convicted, today observed that it has taken into consideration the gravity of offence, lack of remorse (of the accused) and potential effect on common man in the case.
On July 28, ten years after ATS recovered a huge haul of arms near Aurangabad, the special court had convicted 12 persons and acquitted eight others in the case but had dropped the stringent MCOCA charge against them.
Out of total 22 accused in the case, the court last week acquitted eight others while trial of two accused was separated as one of them was declared hostile after he turned approver, while another accused is absconding.
On May 8, 2006, a Maharashtra ATS team chased a Tata Sumo and an Indica car on Chandwad-Manmad Highway near Aurangabad and arrested three terror suspects and seized 30kg of RDX, 10 AK-47 assault rifles and 3,200 bullets.
Jundal, allegedly driving the Indica, managed to give police the slip.
The court had observed that the accused had a common thought process and wanted to wage “jihad”.
The judge had also accepted prosecution’s case that the accused wanted to strike terror in the minds of the people and wanted to eliminate public figures like (the then) Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi and Hindu leader Praveen Togadia (of VHP).
The judge had also said that the accused wanted to avenge developments that unfolded after the 2002 Godhra riots.
According to police, after the ATS intercepted the vehicles, Jundal, who hails from Beed district, drove to Malegaon and a few days later he escaped to Bangladesh from where he fled to Pakistan.
Jundal was deported to India from Saudi Arabia in 2012 Later, charges were framed against the arrested accused in August 2013.
The MCOCA court had last week convicted Jundal under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Explosives Act, Explosive Substance Act and Indian Penal Code, while others under varying charges. Charges against them under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) were, however, dropped.
The court had accepted the prosecution’s contention that the cache of arms and ammunitions that the ATS had intercepted from two cars had originally been procured from Pakistan.
While convicting Jundal, and 11 others, the court had observed that ATS could not substantiate the charges of MCOCA against them, even as it accepted direct and substantial evidence presented by the agency in the case.
The special court had framed charges against the 22 accused in August 2013.
During the trial, the prosecution examined 100 witnesses while defence lawyers examined 16.
The court had granted bail to ten accused during the trial. The trial was stayed by the Supreme Court for a while after one of the accused challenged constitutional validity of certain provisions of MCOCA. The stay was eventually vacated in 2009.
The Bombay High Court had also earlier directed the lower court to expedite the trial.