Mumbai, Nov. 11: After 12 years of the Bombay blasts when the judge asked him why he had not shown up till today, a tired and wan Abu Salem Ansari suggested he did not know he was wanted.
“I had no knowledge of the CBI notification,” Salem replied in Hindi.
It may have taken a dozen years for the CBI to lay its hands on the biggest catch in the Bombay blasts case, but it was not looking back today after having flown him and his companion Monica Bedi into the city this morning from Portugal.
Wanted in numerous cases, the key among them being the 1993 serial blasts and the murder of music mogul Gulshan Kumar, 36-year-old Salem and Monica were produced in different courts.
The high-security Arthur Road jail was turned into a fortress for the sitting of special Tada (the anti-terror law) court judge P.D. Kode.
Over 100 personnel of Mumbai police and the State Reserve Police were on guard when a white Toyota Qualis carrying Salem drove in around 2.45 pm. A huge crowd had gathered outside to catch a glimpse of the don who had terrorised top Bollywood names.
Standing before Justice Kode, Salem’s boyish face looked unusually white. He was booked under Section 3 of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act and 120 (B) (conspiracy) of the IPC.
Special public prosecutor C.S. Sharma told the court that Salem had played a key role in supplying arms and ammunition to four accused in the blasts case.
Salem’s name figures in the confessions of blasts accused actor Sanjay Dutt, businessman Baba Musa Chauhan and film producers and owners of now-defunct Magnum Video Hanif Kadawala and Sameer Hingora. Salem and Chauhan had visited the Magnum Video office on January 15, 1993, seeking help to transport arms and ammunition to Sanjay Dutt.
Kode, who granted a 12-day custody of Salem till November 23, strongly objected when the prosecutor informed him that Salem had been extradited from Portugal on condition that he would not be given a death sentence or a life term of more than 25 years.
An accused cannot be presented before the court with pre-conditions, Kode said.
The conditions agreed to by the government with Portugal to have Salem extradited after a three-year struggle could prove tricky in the trial.
Defence lawyer Majeed Memon cited a Supreme Court judgment that defined life term as imprisonment till the end of life. If Salem’s sentence is restricted to 25 years, it will violate that judgment.
Second, Salem has also been charged under conspiracy sections of 120 (B). “How can the judge discriminate between Salem’s sentence and that awarded to others whenever he concludes'” Memon asked.
Kode is expected to pronounce the judgment in the serial blasts case any time now as the trial has concluded.
The special public prosecutor for Mumbai police, Ujjwal Nikam, said: “Salem will be tried separately on the basis of the available evidence.”
The court allowed Salem to speak to Monica.