A special court in Mumbai announced the quantum of sentence against Abu Salem and four other convicts- Feroz Abdul Rashid Khan, Taher Merchant, Karimullah Khan and Riyaz Siddiqui- in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case on Thursday. While Abu Salem and Karimullah Khan were sentenced to life imprisonment, Feroz Khan and Tahir Merchant were given death sentence. Riyaz Siddiqui was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The mastermind of the 1993 serial blasts which had killed 257 and injured 713 people, Mustafa Dossa had been convicted by the Court on June 16 this year. The case against Mustafa Dossa was closed because he died on June 28 while the sentencing arguments were going on in court. The CBI had claimed that the role of Dossa was “more severe” than Yakub Memon, who was hanged in July 2015 in the same case. The CBI had also claimed that Dossa, Merchant and Feroz, were “main conspirators”.
While CBI special public prosecutor Deepak Salvi sought the death sentence for Merchant, Feroze and Karimullah, he pressed for life sentences against Salem and Merchant.
The charge against Salem could have attracted the maximum punishment. But since he was extradited from Portugal in 2005, a Lisbon court has held that he cannot be awarded death here. Salem, though his lawyer, has also argued that he cannot be jailed for more than 25 years as assured by the Indian government.
Key conspirator Mustafa Dossa, 60, against whom Salvi had also sought the death penalty, died pending sentencing. The case against him has since abated and there will be no sentence pronounced against him.
Qayyum Shaikh, 64, behind bars for almost 11 years, was acquitted for lack of evidence. This trial of seven was the second in the 1993 case.
The main trial of 123 accused ended in 2006 with the conviction of 100. Yakub Memon, brother of prime absconding accused Tiger Memon, was hanged in 2015, and the others have served or are serving time.
Salvi said trial for the seven, arrested between 2003 and 2010, had to be separated as they were nabbed after a substantial portion of the previous trial was completed. With no other accused currently in custody, the verdict will be the last in the case for now. Thirty-three accused are absconding, including key conspirators Dawood Ibrahim, his brother Anees Ibrahim, Mustafa’s brother Mohammed Dossa and Tiger Memon.
For Merchant and Karimullah, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had relied on the same 22 judgments of the Supreme Court which it used for seeking the extreme punishment for Dossa and Feroz. Prominent in the verdicts which Salvi said gave sentencing “guidelines” was the landmark verdict in 2013 in the very 1993 blasts when the apex court had confirmed death sentence for the “archer” Yakub Memon, while commuting it for ten others, who it described as “arrows.”
Condemning both, Merchant and Karimullah, for being “main conspirators” in the Mumbai blasts of ’93, Salvi stressed on how Merchant “worked with Tiger Memon”. He backed his death plea by pointing to “anguish, agitation and frustration expressed by Taher Merchant due to the situation prevailing in Mumbai during the period riots in January, 1993”. He continued that Merchant was proven guilty of “actively participating in several meetings” and “must be held directly responsible for the bomb explosions which were deeply rooted in the conspiracy discussed in various meetings in Dubai”.
Similarly, Karimullah’s role as a member of the Ejaz Pathan gang and his active role in the landing of arms and ammunitions in Shakhadi were pointed out by Salvi. Both accused had knowledge of the “object of the conspiracy” but did not avert the crime although they had the chance to do so, pointed out Salvi, as one of the aggravating factor. That he had absconded was another aggravating factor. “The victims and their families were denied justice by the inordinate delay of 24 years as he remained absconding”