A Mumbai court handed on Tuesday life imprisonment to seven of the 12 convicts, including 26/11 attacks handler Abu Jundal, in a decade-old case involving a threat to the life of then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
While two others were sentenced to 14 years in prison, the rest of the three got eight years in jail.
They were convicted last week in a case of arms haul, and the court then said the explosives and rifles were meant to eliminate Modi and VHP leader Pravin Togadia. There was direct evidence that the consignment of arms was provided by Pakistan to avenge the 2002 Gujarat riots, the court said.
Special judge SL Anekar rejected a plea for leniency and said considering the “gravity of the offence” and the convicts’ apparent “lack of remorse”, the court concluded that they deserved no compassion.
All the convicts, including Lashkar operative Jundal whose real name is Zabiuddin Ansari, escaped the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (Mcoca). Eight people were acquitted in what has come to be known as the 2006 Aurangabad arms haul case.
On May 8, 2006, a team of Maharashtra anti-terrorist squad chased two cars on the Chandwad-Manmad highway near Aurangabad and arrested three terror suspects. The ATS recovered 30 kg RDX, 10 AK-47 rifles and 3,200 rounds of ammunition from one of the vehicles. Jundal, who was in the other car, managed to flee.
Hailing from Beed district in Maharashtra, Jundal, who was deported from Saudi Arabia in 2012, was on the radar of intelligence agencies, which traced him to Pakistan through phone intercepts.
Jundal was picked up for questioning by the Saudi police in June 2012. A year later, Jundal was brought to India. He led the ATS to another hideout from where 13kg RDX, 1,200 cartridges and 50 hand grenades were recovered.
The special court framed charges against the 22 arrested accused in August 2013.
The trial was stayed by the Supreme Court for a while after one of the accused challenged the constitutional validity of certain provisions of MCOCA. The stay was vacated in 2009.
In August 2015, the Bombay high court directed the lower court to expedite the trial. During the trial, the prosecution examined 100 witnesses while defence examined 16.
More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in a communal frenzy that gripped Gujarat after 59 Hindu activists were killed when a coach of the Sabarmati Express was burnt in Godhra in February 2002.