The founder of the radical Islamic Al Umma was convicted, but Kerala’s best known Muslim fundamentalist leader walked free as a special judge began delivering verdicts in the 9-year-old Coimbatore serial bombings case.
Twelve synchronised explosions killed 54 people and injured over 250 in Coimbatore on Valentine’s Day in 1998. Among the places the terrorists hit was the venue of a BJP election meeting, which L.K. Advani was scheduled to address. Investigators said the attacks were aimed to kill Advani, and avenge the 18 Muslims killed in the communal rioting that had followed the murder of a traffic constable by the Al Umma in late 1997.
Abdul Nazer Mahdani, the 42-year-old wheelchair-bound leader of Kerala’s radical People’s Democratic Party, was among those acquitted. His lawyers asked for his immediate release from prison where he has been lodged since 1998, but the judge sought a formal application for bail first.
Al Umma founder Kovai Basha, his brother Nawab Khan, son Siddiq Ali, and close associate Mohammed Ansari were found guilty of conspiracy and causing enmity and disharmony among communities. All face death or life in prison. Sentences will be pronounced on August 16.
The judgment on south India’s worst terror attack comes a day after curtains fell on the nation’s longest criminal trial, in its worst-ever peacetime massacre. Unlike the 1993 Mumbai bombings however, the Coimbatore blasts trial was held under normal criminal laws, not the special anti-terrorist TADA or POTA.