| Security personnel shut the gates of Presidency jail, where the judgment in the American Center attack case was delivered on Tuesday under beefed-up bandobast. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
A little over three years after the attack on the American Center, that left five policemen dead and a city stunned, mastermind Aftab Ansari and six others were on Tuesday convicted on a host of charges, including waging war against the nation.
Two of the other accused ' Shakil Mallik and Dilip Patel ' were acquitted for lack of adequate evidence against them in the January 22, 2002, attack.
The seven convicted were also charged with trying to overthrow the government by 'criminal force' and murder. Both charges invite either imprisonment for life or death.
The sentence will be delivered on Wednesday after city civil and sessions court judge Basudeb Majumdar listens to what the seven guilty men have to say about the verdict.
The conviction ' a 10-minute affair carried out inside a heavily-guarded Presidency jail ' comes exactly three years after the detective department submitted the chargesheet in the case.
On April 26, 2002, the homicide wing filed the chargesheet against 15 persons, including mastermind Aftab Ansari. Six of the accused, including Amir Reza Khan and Sadakat Hassan, were listed as 'absconding'.
Tuesday's session started at 11 am. Aftab Ansari was brought in along with Nasir, guarded by commandos of the Special Action Force.
Inside the small room ' where the trial of the American Center attack case was shifted after cops raised security concerns ' the family members of the accused stood in silence while the seven sat on wooden benches inside the prison box, heads bowed.
The two acquitted were hawala operators who, apparently, did not have any direct links with the conspiracy. They did not realise that they had been acquitted till they talked to their lawyers after the proceedings.
Minutes later, the lawyers walked out. 'It is a harsh judgment and we will proceed to high court. But we will wait for the nature of punishment first,' said Aftab's lawyer Syed Shahid Imam.
'The charges that have been brought are very serious offences and should invite a death penalty,' said public prosecutor Ashok Bakshi.
Susan Schultz, public affairs officer at the American Center, reacting to the court's order, said: 'The attack on the policemen posted outside the American Center here was a reprehensible act' The United States of America commends the Indian government for apprehending, trying and sentencing the apparent mastermind and the perpetrators behind the attack.'