The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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High drama across courtrooms
Death brings out fury

Mumbai, July 24: As the judge read out the death sentence, Abdul Akhtar Khan sprang to his feet.

Musalmano ko kaato, jala dalo aur baad me phansi bhi de do (Oh yes, butcher the Muslims, burn them and then hang them, too),” he cried out.

By his side, Bombay blasts co-accused Firoz Amani Malik, also sentenced to be hanged, was addressing judge Pramod Kode in a level voice. But the bitterness showed through.

“I was granted bail by this court. If I were a terrorist, I could have run away. But I did not — because I have respect for the law and the court,” Malik said. “But justice has not been done.”

Akhtar seemed to have no time for such arguments. “Naara-e-Takbir, Allah-ho-Akbar,” he screamed.

The long-drawn sentencing in the 14-year-old case was pepped up by a burst of drama today as the anti-terror court handed the death sentence to three men convicted of throwing grenades while sparing a fourth.

Zakir Hussain Shaikh, Akhtar and Malik filled the courtroom with religious slogans, claimed they were being victimised because of their religion, and allegedly threatened to kill the CBI prosecutor.

Zakir referred to the Srikrishna Commission inquiry into the Bombay riots weeks before the March 12 serial blasts. “If Hindus kill, an inquiry commission is set up. If Muslims kill, they are sent to the gallows,” he said.

An irritated judge scolded the trio: “If you think my decision is wrong, you are free to appeal after the sentencing is over.”

Kode ordered the men taken back to their barracks in Arthur Road Jail, where the special court is housed.

As the trio passed special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam on the staircase, one of them allegedly turned round and spat out a threat: “Hum tujhe jaan se maar denge; hum tumko dekh lenge (we’ll kill you; for sure, we’ll take care of you).”

Their escort officer, Ashok Gaikwad, later lodged a threat complaint at N.M. Joshi Marg police station.

The trio and co-accused Moin Qureshi had been convicted of throwing hand grenades at the fishermen’s colony in Mahim, killing three people and injuring six. Qureshi was awarded a life term because he was only 17 at the time.

The wild courtroom scenes brought back memories of prime conspirator Yakub Memon’s outburst on the first day of the verdict in September.

Yakub, his brothers Essa and Yusuf, and his sister-in-law Rubeena were the first to be convicted. The court acquitted Yakub’s wife Raheen and brother Suleiman, Rubeena’s husband.

Yakub had asked the court why no one had been punished for the Bombay riots despite the Srikrishna Commission indicting several Right-wing Hindu leaders. The convict had also accused the CBI of tricking him into surrendering with promises of leniency.

After Memon’s outburst, the court shifted the convicts from the witness box to a bench further away from the judge, where they sat with two policemen flanking them. At least a dozen armed policemen stand guard in the first-floor courtroom.

Of the 100 convicts, 91 have now been sentenced, with 10 ordered to hang and 17 awarded life terms.

Mohammed Farooq Pawle, who planted bombs at the Air India headquarters and Lucky Petrol Pump next to the Shiv Sena Bhavan, will be sentenced tomorrow. Four members of the Memon family, Sanjay Dutt and the actor’s three friends have been summoned on Friday.

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