Public prosecutors A R Patel (C-L) and Sudhir Brahmbhatt (C-R) speak to the media outside the Sessions Court in Ahmedabad on February 18, 2022, after an Indian court sentenced 38 people to death over a string of bomb blasts in 2008 that killed dozens in the city of Ahmedabad. (Photo by SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images)
AN Indian court sentenced 38 people to death on Friday (18) over a string of bomb blasts in 2008 that killed dozens in the city of Ahmedabad, in one of the country’s biggest mass death sentences.
Coordinated attacks in western Gujarat state’s commercial hub in 2008 killed 56, launching shrapnel through markets, buses and other public places.
An Islamist group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility, saying the blasts were revenge for the 2002 religious riots in Gujarat that left some 1,000 people dead.
The court on Friday convicted 49 people over the attacks, in which more than 200 were injured.
“Special court judge A R Patel awarded death sentence to 38 out of the 49 convicted,” public prosecutor Amit Patel said.
“Eleven of the convicted were sentenced to life imprisonment till death… The court has considered the case as rarest of the rare,” he said.
The convicted were all found guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy. Nearly 80 people were charged but 28 were acquitted.
The marathon trial lasted over a decade thanks to India’s labyrinthine legal system, with more than 1,100 witnesses called to testify.
It was dragged out by procedural delays, including a legal battle by four of the accused to retract confessions.
Police also foiled a 2013 attempt by more than a dozen of the defendants to tunnel their way out of jail using food plates as digging tools.
All 77 accused have been held in custody for years, with the exception of one who was bailed after a schizophrenia diagnosis.
Deadly religious riots
Ahmedabad was the centre of deadly 2002 religious riots that saw at least 1,000 people — mostly Muslims — hacked, shot and burned to death in an orgy of sectarian violence that sent shock waves around the world.
It was prompted by the killing of 59 Hindus in a train fire — a case in which 31 Muslims were convicted for criminal conspiracy and murder — on the way back from one of Hinduism’s most sacred sites.
Prime minister Narendra Modi was at the time head of the Gujarat state government and has subsequently been dogged by accusations that he turned a blind eye to the unrest.
Modi, from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was cleared of conspiracy but for a time was subject to travel bans imposed by the United States and others.
India was rocked by several lethal bomb attacks in 2008 claimed by the Indian Mujahideen group — with dozens killed in the capital New Delhi and northern tourist city of Jaipur.
In November of that year, 166 people were killed by gunmen armed with explosive devices, in a coordinated assault on hotels and other high-profile targets in Mumbai that was blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
Capital punishment remains an integral part of the Indian criminal justice system.
The number of prisoners on death row at the end of 2021 stood at 488, according to a report by Project 39A, a law reforms advocacy group.
The last execution was in March 2020, when four men convicted of the rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi were hanged.