Himayat Baig, the lone arrested accused in the German Bakery blast case, was on Monday convicted by a sessions court for murder, criminal conspiracy and other charges, more than three years after a powerful explosion rocked the popular eatery, killing 17 and wounding 64, in the first terror attack in Pune.
"Taking into consideration the evidence before me I am holding Baig guilty," Additional Sessions Judge N P Dhote said pronouncing his judgement.
The judge fixed April 18 for pronouncing the quantum of sentence for offences which are punishable with death.
Baig, a resident of Maharashtra's Beed district, was present in the court, which held him guilty under sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substances), 474 (forgery), 153(A) (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, language and doing acts prejudicial to maintainance of harmony and 120 (B) (Criminal Conspiracy) of IPC.
He was also convicted under various sections of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Explosive Substances Act.
Himayat Baig: How a bright young man became a terrorist
The court accepted the prosecution's contention that it was a "carefully planned and executed attack calculated to terrorise the public in general by causing extensive damage to life and property and that the primary objective was to undermine and reduce faith of the common citizen in the elected government and destabilize the system of law".
The judge also upheld the prosecution charge that the terror attack was specially designed to cause damage to the lives of foreign nationals visiting the country and its reputation in the matter of security.
Of the 17 killed in the blast that brought Pune on the terror radar for the first time, five were foreigners. File video: Compensation of 5 lakhs announced for victims
LeT operative David Headley, in his testimony before a Chicago court in the trial of his accomplice Tahawwur Rana, had admitted that he had recced and taken photographs of the popular hang-out in Pune.
Baig is the only accused arrested and convicted out of the seven charge-sheeted in the case. The five absconding accused are Yasin Bhatkal, Mohsin Chaudhary, Riyaz Bhatkal, Iqbal Bhatkal and Fayyaz Kazgi, while Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, one of the handlers of 26/11 terrorists facing trial in other terror-related cases, has not been arrested in the German Bakery case.
All the accused have links to Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba or home-grown terror outfit Indian Mujahideen.
The Maharashtra ATS had arrested Baig, who ran a cyber cafe at Udgir in Beed district on September 7, 2010, accusing him of hatching a criminal conspiracy with the six others to launch the terror attack on the eatery located at the posh Koregaon park area, frequented by foreigners and young collegians. How Baig dodged cops
According to the prosecution, the conspiracy to bomb the German Bakery was hatched in Colombo in March 2008 when Baig visited the Sri Lankan capital to confabulate with Zabiuddi Ansari and Fayyaz Kazgi.
Baig was given money for funding the purchase of explosive devices and also for travel of indoctrinated Muslim youths desirous of undergoing terrorist training in Pakistan. According to the prosecution, Baig on his return from Colombo, settled at Udgir in Beed district and started a cyber cafe. He was alleged to be in constant communication with the wanted accused with the help of 25 different Email-IDs.
Under instructions from the alleged co-conspirators he went to Pune on January 31, 2010 and conducted recce of the targeted site and decided the timing of planting the explosive device. Yasin Bhatkal, who is still absconding, and Baig executed the attack by planting the bomb under one of the tables at the eatery on February 13.
As many as 103 witnesses were examined by the prosecution during the trial. The defence had rejected prosecution charges saying that Baig had been falsely implicated in the case and that the accused was in Aurangabad on the day of attack.
The defence counsel contended that Baig had visited Colombo to sell clothes in March 2010, after the attack had taken place, and therefore the charge of conspiracy was not maintainable.
The judge, however, upheld all prosecution charges.
Meanwhile, Baig's counsel Abdul Rahman has said he would move the high court against the verdict.
"Definitely, I am going to appeal in the high court. I am sure I will get justice from the high court," he told reporters after the judgement.
Rahman said justice had not been done to Baig as he was not present in Pune at the time of the blast nor had be gone to German Bakery to plant the bomb.
He said the key conspirators in the case had not been arrested and Abu Jundal, named in the charge sheet, was not even brought to the court.
"Police has shown Jundal as one of the conspirators in this case but he was not brought to the court...it is unfortunate," he said, adding," more than one person is required for a conspiracy."
"It is the allegation of the police that conspiracy took place in Sri Lanka between Fayyaz Kagzi and Mohsin Chaudhari. It is unfortunate that none of the police officers or Investigating Officer visited that country to find out at which place the conspiracy had taken place. That part remains to be proved by the police," he said.
The German Bakery blast, the first major terrorist act after the 26/11 Mumbai carnage, had put Pune on the terrorist radar. The city is now considered vulnerable to terror attacks in view of the presence of a large number of foreign students.
Another terror attack on the IT and automobile hub was witnessed last year on August 1 when low intensity serial bomb explosions on the arterial J M Road left one injured.
A case was registered by the Pune police after the German Bakery blast which was later transferred to Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS).