India: Five sentenced in 1993 Mumbai blast case

Officials inspect bomb damage in the basement of the Air India building, in the wake of the 1993 bomb blasts.

Story highlights

  • The attack was the largest in history on Indian soil
  • The bombings were ordered by Islamic militants, prosecutors alleged

New Delhi (CNN)More than 20 years after the deadly Mumbai bombings that left 257 dead and more than 700 injured, an Indian special court has sentenced five of those convicted on charges of conspiring and carrying out terrorist activities.

Thursday's sentencing ends a 24-year legal process, which centered on the role played by Abu Salem -- who authorities accused of being a gangster -- in supplying weapons to the attackers.
    Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikkam announced that Salem had been sentenced to life imprisonment.
    The attacks, which occurred on March 12, 1993, remain the largest coordinated terror incident to have taken place on Indian soil in terms of the number of casualties, according to CNN affiliate News18.
    Beginning at 1:30 p.m., the city -- then known as Bombay -- was rocked by a series of at least 12 coordinated blasts. Those explosions ripped through the heart of India's financial capital, destroying the stock exchange, the Air India building and other notable locations.

    Concurrent sentences

    In addition to Salem, Karimullah Khan was handed a life sentence while Tahir Merchant and Feroz Khan were given the death penalty. Riyaz Siddiqui was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
    The charges against the five ranged from criminal conspiracy, waging war against the Indian government and murder under sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Indian Explosives and Explosive Substances Act.
    "All the sentences are concurrent. Every offense has been attached to the penalty. As per the undertaking given by Government of India, Abu Salem can only be given a maximum 25-year life imprisonment. He was involved in the main conspiracy and had complete knowledge about the blasts," Special Counsel DN Salvi told journalists after the sentencing was announced.

    Salem escapes death sentence

    Salem was expected to receive a death sentence but a treaty with Portugal, from where he was extradited in 2005 on numerous criminal charges, resulted in a life term.
    In February 2015, he was sentenced to life in prison for the 1995 murder of Mumbai builder Pradeep Jain.
    Speaking to CNN affiliate News 18, OP Chatwal, the man who led the Central Bureau of Investigation team that brought Salem back from Lisbon, said that the death penalty exemption was essential to securing his extradition.
    "Without this assurance, he could not have been extradited. Once life imprisonment is given in Portugal, he cannot be kept imprisoned beyond 25 years," said Chatwel.
    "The maximum sentence is the death sentence but this man cannot be awarded the death sentence ... (as) he was brought from a country where there is no death sentence."
    For his role in the Mumbai bombing, Salem was convicted of conspiracy and terror activities and found guilty under the Arms and Explosives Act for procuring and supplying weapons.

    India's biggest terror attack

    The bombings were ordered by Islamic militants in revenge for the demolition of Babri Masjid -- a 16th century mosque -- by Hindu extremists, the prosecution claimed.
    The destruction of the Babri Masjid in the town of Ayodhya in Northern India sparked a wave of religious violence that left hundreds dead across India.
    Thursday's sentencing brings an end to the second trial connected to the bombing.
    The first trial, which concluded in 2007, led to the convictions of 100 people, including key conspirator Yakub Memon. He was sentenced to death. Ten others were also given the death penalty, but later appeals reduced their sentences to life in prison in 2013.