A special court on Monday will decide on the quantum of sentence against the 12 people convicted for their role in the 2006 Mumbai local train bombings which killed 188 people and injured over 800.
Special Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act court judge Yatin D Shinde had convicted the 12 men of murder, conspiracy and waging war against the country but acquitted one suspect, Abdul Wahid Shaikh, accused of allowing Pakistani nationals to live in his house. The convicts face either execution or life in prison.
"I think this is justice for all the people who died and those who were injured," said KP Raghuvanshi, former anti-terrorism squad (ATS) chief, who was part of the blasts probe.
The convicts' lawyer, however, has said he would appeal against the decision in a higher court.
Seven blasts tore through the first-class compartments of crowded local trains in a span of just 11 minutes on July 11, 2006, during evening rush hour when millions of office-goers were heading home. The blast occurred between Khar Road-Santacruz, Bandra-Khar Road, Jogeshwari-Mahim Junction, Mira Road- Bhayander, Matunga- Mahim Junction and Borivali.
Investigators said around 20kg of RDX were packed into pressure cookers, placed in bags and hidden under newspapers and umbrellas.
The ATS said the suspects were linked to the banned Students Islamic Movement of India and were helped by Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to hatch the conspiracy that prompted New Delhi to freeze peace talks with Islamabad.
The scene at a blast site. (HT File Photo)
Police said the suspects targeted local trains as they were crowded and the security was not as tight as the other sites they surveyed. They divided themselves into seven teams, each consisting of a Pakistani national and an Indian national, and the bombs were taken to Churchgate station on July 11 by taxis.
A chargesheet filed by the ATS in November 2006 named 30 people but four Indian suspects and all 13 Pakistani accused, including key conspirator and LeT commander Azam Cheema, are on the run.
Former Mumbai police commissioner AN Roy, who played a crucial role in the investigation, said he was happy that the court endorsed the chargesheet.
"Investigations were done thoroughly by the Mumbai Police and the ATS. To start with, it was a blind case. We had no clue. But I am satisfied with the verdict," said Roy.
The case courted controversy after arrested Indian Mujahideen co-founder Mohamed Sadiq Israr Shaikh told investigators he and fellow IM operatives carried out the blasts but later retracted the confession in court.
IM founder Yasin Bhatkal said in August 2013 the blasts were carried out in retaliation for the 2002 Gujarat riots, leading to allegations that the wrong people had been arrested.
"The case had got a lot of adverse publicity and there were allegations the wrong people were arrested. I hope the judgement will stop these talks," said special public prosecutor Raja Thakare.
The defence lawyers examined 51 witnesses and one person was called as a court witness. The deposition made by witnesses runs into around 5,500 pages.
The MCOCA judge had concluded the trial on August 19 last year. The examination of witnesses resumed after two years since the Supreme Court had stayed the trial in 2008. Before the stay, the prosecution had already examined a police officer. The Supreme Court vacated the stay on April 23, 2010.
A little too late
Several victims said the decision that came nine years after the blasts had come too late and they had not been given adequate medical support or compensation since the attack.
"No punishment will be able to ease the suffering we went through in the last nine years," said Lalji Pandey, 65, one of the hundreds of victims.
Pandey was headed to Bandra from Churchgate on July 11, when the blast ripped through one of the coaches in the train, and through the passengers' lives.
"The train had crossed Mahim when the blast happened. There was a deafening sound, and then darkness. Everyone started running, some jumped off the train," said Pandey.
He recalled how a part of the coach pierced through a young man's leg while he was attempting to escape seconds after the attack.
Pandey, who lives with his wife, a son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren in Bhayandar, retired in 2012.
He called the verdict "fair" but said the suffering of the victims cannot be healed.
"The verdict came very late. Nine years is a long time. Everyone should have been convicted and punished. No one responsible for the insane attack should be set free," said another victim, Dashrath Patel.
Others wanted the terrorists hanged.
Suhas Tawde, 58, said, "If one person is killed, his whole family is ruined. The terrorists should be hanged. Why should the government spend money on them keeping them alive?"
While some victims followed the developments of the case closely all these years, others tried to move on.
"No punishment can benefit the families, but at least it will bring closure. I have stopped following the developments. Building our lives again is more important for those of us who are suffering," said Rajesh Jha, a Kandivli-based chartered accountant.