NEW DELHI // India's highest court yesterday upheld the death sentence for the principal accused in the deadliest ever terrorist attack in the country, and also sentenced a prominent Bollywood actor for illegal possession of firearms.
The series of bombings in Mumbai that killed 257 people 20 years ago was notable because it exposed the close links between the Mumbai underworld, Bollywood and Pakistan's sponsorship of terror.
A two-judge bench on the Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence for Yakub Memon, a brother of the renowned mafia don Ibrahim "Tiger" Memon. The judges said they had "no doubt" about Yakub Memon's role in the blasts on March 12, 1993, at 13 sites including the Bombay Stock Exchange, the passport office, an airport, two hotels and a cinema in an attack far more devastating than the coordinated terrorist attacks of 2008.
They said he was the "driving force" behind the blasts.
The Supreme Court also sentenced the Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt to five years in prison. Dutt has been cleared of conspiring in the terrorist attacks but was found to be in illegal possession of an AK56 rifle and a 9mm pistol.
The guns were given to him by a member of the Mumbai mafia and had come from a consignment of arms smuggled into Mumbai just before the explosions. Dutt claimed that he accepted the guns to protect his family.
One of his lawyers told reporters yesterday that Dutt "was young and foolish back then".
Dutt has already served 18 months in prison and he has been asked to report in four weeks to begin serving the remaining three-and-a-half years of his sentence.
The judges commuted the death sentences of 10 other convicts to life imprisonment, calling them mere "arrows" in the hands of the "archers" Yakub Memon, his brother Ibrahim, and another underworld figure named Dawood Ibrahim.
Ibrahim Memon and Dawood Ibrahim are believed to be living in Pakistan but Indian requests for their extradition have been unsuccessful.
The judges also made special mention of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). "It is clear that ISI training was given to the accused in Islamabad," the verdict said. "The accused were trained in bomb-making and to handle sophisticated weapons in Pakistan, and [the] ISI was also involved in the 1993 blasts."
The 1993 blasts gave India its "smoking gun" that Pakistan's ISI was coordinating terrorist attacks in India, said B Raman, who formerly headed the counter-terrorism division of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency.
"There was some other evidence from the 1980s also, but no smoking gun," Mr Raman told The National.
After the serial blasts in Mumbai, security agencies recovered some explosives that had not gone off, and the timers to which they were attached.
"We found they were of American manufacture," Mr Raman said. "So when the Americans examined it at our request, they confirmed to us that they had been made in America and had been sold or given to Pakistan for use in Afghanistan against Soviet troops [in the 1980s]."