The Sewri fast track court on Saturday acquitted Maulana Ghulam Ilahi Baksh Yahya (47), former imam [head of a mosque] of Haj House at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
The cleric was charged with sheltering three militants from Jammu and Kashmir with alleged Lashkar-e-Tayyeba links in January 2006.
The court, however, convicted three Kashmiris —Mohammed Ramzan Haji (64), Kurisind Ahmed Lone (32) and Arshad Hussain Badru (29) — under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and for criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code. They have been sentenced to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment.
The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested Yahya after his name came up during interrogation of the three Kashmiris. The ATS had also alleged that the imam worked as a link between the three accused and Salauddin, an LeT commander in Kashmir. None of the charges were proved in court.
Yahya’s lawyer Mubin Solkar said: “The court disbelieved the testimony of two witnesses who had said that Yahya helped Haji change some currency into higher denominations.”
Solkar said the court noted that though there were phone conversations between Yahya and the other accused, nothing incriminating was found. Solkar said the ATS also failed to prove that Yahya had booked a room for Haji in Haj house.
The ATS had said it had seized material to make bombs and a foreign revolver from the Kashmiris. The prosecution examined 23 witnesses to prove its case that the accused had planned a blast in the city using the material seized from them.
Haji, Lone and Badru pleaded for leniency, citing family problems. Special public prosecutor Raja Thackeray opposed their plea. “There would have been a disaster [had they succeeded],” Thackeray said.
When told he was acquitted, Yahya saluted the judge and said: “Thanks, Sir.” “I was vindicated because I am innocent,” Yahya said outside court after offering namaz. Yahya’s 18-year-old son Imran, a Class 12 student, said: “I had to take leave from college to attend the hearing. My academics suffered due to this.”